The Illusion, Tony Kushner’s freewheeling adaptation of a 17th century French comedy by the neoclassical dramatist Pierre Corneille, doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the Signature Theatre Company’s season dedicated to Kushner’s work.
The high-profile season began in grand style with the very first New York revival of Kushner’s two-part epic Angels in America. It was followed by his new family drama The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, which ends its run at the Public Theater on Sunday.
Unlike those plays, which are contemporary dramas that tackle numerous political issues, The Illusion is a gothic, romantic and occasionally poetic fairy tale that offers meditations on the nature of storytelling and theatricality.
Pridament (David Margulies), an aging and regretful lawyer who once banished his son (Finn Wittrock) out of his home, visits the secluded cave of the magician Alcandre (Lois Smith) in order to learn what happened to his child.
Alcandre conjures a series of varied images that display the son in various romantic entanglements, in poverty, in prison, in battle and even in death. However, there is a strong possibility that Alcandre is not showing what really happened to Pridament’s son and that these are all illusions.
Michael Mayer’s (Spring Awakening) production, which includes elaborate period costumes and dark atmospheric lighting, is visually intriguing. But the cast is mostly unable to bring urgency to the script, which comes off as slow, overwritten and pretty boring.
The real standouts are 80-year-old Smith, who makes for a kooky and authoritative sorceress; Henry Stram, who gives off a genuinely creepy vibe as her silent servant; and Peter Bartlett as an aging and ridiculously foppish suitor.
It is worth noting that The Illusion is the last play to be presented by the Signature Theatre Company at the Peter Norton Space before it moves to its new nearby digs. We can only hope that its work there will continue to be as artistically distinctive and supportive of American playwrights.