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Theater review: 'The Illusion' at A Noise Within

March 22, 2012 |  1:02 pm

Deborah Strang and Nick Ullettt in "The Illusion"
“The Illusion,” Tony Kushner’s very free adaptation of Pierre Corneille’s 17th century play, “L’Illusion Comique,” has been prolifically produced since its first staging in 1989. A tragicomic fantasia on the evanescent nature of love, “The Illusion” predates Kushner’s  “Angels in America” by just a few years. 

A great theatrical experimenter in his own right, Kushner is the ideal adaptor for Corneille’s ground-breaking experiment, which blurs reality to a sometimes frustrating degree.

In her current staging at A Noise Within, director Casey Stangl cannot always redress the desultory nature of the material, yet the production fascinates on many levels.

The action commences in the shadowy cave of Alcandre, the magician (Deborah Strang.)  Wealthy Pridamant (Nick Ullett), asks Alcandre and her amanuensis (Jeff Doba) to help him ascertain the fate of his estranged son (Graham Hamilton), whom he disinherited some years ago.

Alcandre shows Pridamant visions of his son’s adventures with various lady loves (Devon Sorvari), tricky servants (Abby Craden) and jealous rivals (Freddy Douglas.)  Reality shifts and the characters’ names change along with their circumstances. As Pridamant voyeuristically looks on, he is plunged from hope to despair and back again by the diverse fates his son enjoys/endures.

Strang and Ullett are terrific, as is Alan Blumenfeld as a grandiose “lunatic” bound for the moon.  Sorvari and Hamilton don’t always measure up to the sheer professional heft of their elders, and one wishes that Keith Mitchell’s lush set had a few more imaginatively eldritch flourishes.  Still, although the quicksilver plot can challenge one’s patience, catharsis awaits the patient playgoer.


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-- F. Kathleen Foley

“The Illusion,” A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena.  In repertory. $42-$46.  Ends May 19.  (626) 356-3100, ext. 1.  Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

Photo: Deborah Strang and Nick Ullettt. Credit: Craig Schwartz.