Smoke and mirrors abound in UR’s International Theatre Program’s latest production, ‘The Illusion,” directed by Nigel Maister. The play, written by Pierre Corneille and freely adapted by Tony Kushner (famous for his Pulitzer Prize-winning play ‘Angels in America”), certainly lives up to its title.

The action follows Pridamant of Avignon, a lawyer (convincingly portrayed by sophomore Kevin McCarthy) who is desperately trying to discover the fate of his son, whom he had cast from his home at a young age. Pridamant’s search leads him to the cave of the magician Alcandre, who promises to summon illusions of Pridamant’s son to play out before their eyes. The events of the son’s life unfold in three scenes, each more bizarre and unpredictable than the last, with interruptions from Pridamant, Alcandre and Amanuensis, Alcandre’s servant. Without revealing the many twists and turns along the way and, trust me, there are quite a few I will say that the usual suspects creep into the story: love, jealousy, mystery, death.

The set is striking. Objects seem to be randomly dispersed about the stage. There are record players and a bucket collecting ominous drips of water; balls and rings suspend over a glassy, reflective floor: The audience’s interest is instantly peaked by entering into what seems more to be a magic show than a theatrical performance.
Alcandre and Amanuensis (junior Christine Rose and senior Anna Kroup respectively) are both played with such fervor in their unsettling androgyny that any hint of skepticism or disbelief is sucked dry from the room. The lighting and sound design, both crucial to the success of the play, are set forth with finesse that occasionally sends shivers up the audience’s spine.

Junior Douglas Zeppenfeld plays Pridamant’s son, whose name switches from Calisto to Clindor to Theogenes through the progression of the play and he assumes the role with unwavering vigor.

Even in the beautiful costuming (which could have proven to be distracting, but instead is seamlessly integrated by costume designer Arnulfo Maldonado), the characters in ‘The Illusion” shine through.

Most notable, and a stealer of more than one scene, is sophomore Leah Barish as Elicia. Barish plays the maid of Melibea, Calisto’s love interest, and with her snide comments, as well as deeply human outbursts of emotion carried with her some of the most poignant moments in the play.

Melibea herself is brought to life by sophomore Mel Balzano, who does not reach quite the same peak of intensity while acting amongst Zeppenfeld and Barish, but makes up for it in a chilling and heart wrenching exchange with her father (senior Anna Kroup, in another role reversal commonly found in the play).

Actors with shorter stage time do not disappoint. Senior Phillip Dumouchel is Pleribo, the rival of Calisto for Melibea’s love, and strikes a solid balance in his character, bringing out both disgust and pity from the audience. Matamore, described concisely and accurately as a lunatic, is Calisto’s employer and another of Melibea’s suitors. His character is wonderfully performed by junior John Amir-Fazli, who is more than capable of acting both ridiculous and profound.

Despite prominent performances by many of the actors, something seems to fall flat when the story comes to a close. While there are plenty of treats for the eye and for the mind, the story never plucks the heartstrings as much as one would hope.
Perhaps this is due to the chemistry between Zeppenfeld and Balzano, or the father-son relationship that never fully establishes itself, or even the ending (which I will not give away, but which tore away almost every connection I had developed with what had unraveled on stage).

I was left wondering what the point was, besides the philosophical discussion between what is real and what is not which regrettably leaves one feeling a bit empty.
It is, nonetheless, an entertaining piece of theatre. ‘The Illusion” is worth the admission price if only for the sensory experience: Lights and sounds are used in magnificent ways that are not seen in the typical theatre production. And why else go to the theatre, other than to experience the great illusion?

‘The Illusion” plays from Oct. 8-10 and Oct. 14-17 at 8 p.m., with 3 p.m. matinees on Oct. 10 and 11. Admission for students is $7, faculty/alumni/seniors $10 and general admission is $13.

Burritt is a member of
the class of 2013.

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