There’s a great payoff at the end of Tony Kushner’s The Illusion. Too bad it takes such a long time to get there.
Kushner, best known for his Angels in America, has liberally adapted The Illusion from the play L’illusion Comique, originally written in 1636 by playwright Pierre Corneille. Kushner takes a rather stodgy play and tweaks it by updating the language and adding wit and humor while loosening up the plot and characters.
The California State University, Sacramento, Alumni Theatre Project picked The Illusion to show off its acting chops—a good choice for showcasing, though it’s sometimes frustrating for the audience. This strange story of a rigid father looking for redemption and an insight into his son’s life opened appropriately during Father’s Day weekend with a cast made up of alumni from the university’s theater department.
What works in this production is the acting, an impressive array of local talent that once trod the university boards but since has moved on to other endeavors—some in the theater world and some beyond. Some of the actors are recent grads; for others, a couple decades separate them from their college days. But all the actors still demonstrate a passion for acting and an apparent fondness and appreciation for the place that gave them recognition and a foot up.
The story is odd: Pridamant the lawyer (Rodger Hoopman) stumbles into a magic cave, seeking answers from sorcerer Alcandre (Paul Fearn) and his servant and sidekick Amanuensis (Scott Adams). He wants to know where and how his wayward son Calisto (Gillen Morrison) ends up. In A Christmas Carol fashion, Pridamant is taken on a journey where he’s a silent witness to his son’s lives and loves. But the story changes each time, with different characters and outcomes.
This constant change of scenery and change of characters provides a great arena for acting, though it makes for a disjointed outing for the audience. There are moments when the production takes on the feel of an acting vehicle. Luckily, the talent of the cast mentioned before, along with Jennifer Stephenson, Katie Valdivia, Amir Sharafeh and Robert Freitas, manages to transcend the play’s awkwardness. It’s worth a trip for local theater producers to check out the available talent right on their doorstep.
The set is sparse yet effective. Minimalism is the key: a wooden box alone on the stage, a simple clothesline that breaks up a scene, and a few leaves that flutter down on young lovers. And the staging and lighting add to the play’s mysterious ambience.