The Illusion

  • Our critic's rating:
    July 1, 2011

    Review by Tulis McCall

    I think the reason that I have not liked much of Lois Smith’s recent work (with the exception of After The Revolution) is that she gets cast in parts where she is forced to be a little dotty and act like “an old person.” In this production all that is tossed out the window and Smith, dressed in a long emerald blue-green robe and wearing a wig fit for a goddess, rocks the house. As Alcandre, a cave dwelling magician who waits on the mortals that seek out her guidance, she is at once a sorceress and a practitioner of the practical.

    When Pridamant of Avignon (the most excellent David Margulies) seeks her help in discovering the fate of his son (Flint Wittrock – a facile leading man) who he banished 15 years earlier she agrees to help him through the use of vision: “Use your eyes, your ears, take from their carryings-on whatever you can, these clouds of colored vapor.” And soon the life of the young man is played out grandly.

    All the characters in his tale, as is the tale itself, are over the top. But such is the careful vision of Michael Mayer that we are lifted into the air along with the story. There are three stories in which the son and the other actors – his beloved Amanda Quaid (an ingénue with spine), her maid Merritt Wever (a comedienne honing her craft), and the two rivals for love Peter Bartlett (hilarious and poignant) and Sean Dugan (a precise and very fine actor) appear. The roles remain the same but the stories differ as the romance progresses. Each dovetails into the next until the unexpected conclusion – all orchestrated by Alcandre and aided by her servant, the sometimes mute Amanuensis (the unpredictable Henry Stram).

    The dialogue is not notable except for a few lovely baguettes of prose. What makes the production a thing of beauty is the manner in which Michael Mayer has woven the elements together. The extraordinary set by Christine Jones that brings us into the playing area without yanking us out of our seats begins the transformation. The other technical elements fold into the mix, and finally the actors tie all the bits together. It is a lovely evening of theatre, of illusion, in which Alcandre has the last word: “What in this world is real and not seeming? Love, which seems the realest thing, is really nothing at all; a simple grey rock is a thousand times more tangible than love is….; and yet love’s more mineral, more dense, more veined with god and corrupted with lead, more bitter and more weighty than the earth’s profoundest matter. Love is a sea of desire stretched between shores – only the shores are real, but how much more compelling is the sea…. The art of illusion is the art of love, and the art of love is the blood-red heart of the world. At times I think there’s nothing else.”

    And, not to make too fine a point of it, but I was baffled that Pierre Corneille got no mention in the program. He is the author, after all. Instead, Tony Kushner is listed in the Playbill as the playwright. Period. He is the adaptor, and there is a mighty difference. Corneille created the tale. Kushner gave it new clothes. To present Kushner as the author of this play is not accurate. One might go so far as to call it an illusion.

    (Tulis McCall)

    "For all its love for all things theatrical this “Illusion” can’t avoid sometimes feeling like an academic exercise."
    Ben Brantley for NY Times

    "Fanciful but sometimes sluggish comedy"
    Joe Dziemianowicz for NY Daily News

    "Has its slow spots, but it's hard not to be bewitched by Michael Mayer's gorgeous production."
    Frank Scheck for New York Post

    "Kushner’s gift for language is everywhere in evidence. But if you don’t go with the fanciful flow 'The Illusion,' directed by Michael Mayer, may seem stilted and slow."
    Philip Boroff for Bloomberg

    "A penetrating and poetic consideration of human desire told with a shimmering theatricality. ...a joy from start to finish."
    Erik Haagensen for Back Stage

    "Your common-man subscriber might be forgiven for finding the whole enterprise a mannered bore."
    Marilyn Stasio for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Bloomberg - Back Stage - Variety