Monday, April 23, 2012

Is Love an Illusion? Corneille says Maybe

Deborah Strang and Nick Ullett Photo Credit Craig Schwartz
Pasadena’s A Noise Within’s dedication to bringing the ‘classics’ to life is well played this season.  This third entry for the season is a winner.  Pierre Corneille’s The Illusion, adapted from the French by Tony Award Winner Tony Kushner, moves smoothly exploring the difference between Reality and Illusion.  In Margery Williams’s  story The Velveteen Rabbit asks “What’s Real” to learn that Love may be the answer.  Corneille is more cynical, saying that “Love is an Illusion: a demonic black disease.” The story would argue the contrary, however, as the splendid Nick Ullett (“Uh Lut” s’il vous plait) as Pridamant goes to a lot of trouble to try to find and reconcile with his son, Calisto/Clindor/Theogenes (broad strokes by Graham Hamilton).  We learn that all of the conjurings by the sorceress Alcandre (brilliant Deborah Strang, Deborah Strang!  Deborah Strang!!  Deborah Strang loves to pose and her theatrics are delightful here) that make up this sweeping chronicle may be themselves simply Illusions.  The scenes conjured by Alcandre are reminiscent of The Fantastiks where the boy, Matt, is bounced through the rigors of the world every which way through El Gallo’s vision “I Can See It.”

You can’t tell Corneille’s characters without a program and even then, keeping track of who’s who playing whom and when and where may be a bit of a challenge.  Effervescently rising to the top is a dark haired beauty, the exquisite Abby Craden as Elisa/Lyse/Clarina, somewhere along the line more or less swapping social stations with the equally impressive Devon Sorvari as Melibea/Isabelle/Hippolyta.  Action is magical and well paced.  The audience’s keeping up is almost as much fun as the actors are having on the stage.

Alan Blumenfeld in a complete 180 from his recent turn in Baby Doll, is funny and charming as Matamore.  Multiple turns by Freddy Douglas and Jeff Doba are impressive. Ensemble members beautifully facilitating scene changes are the able Katherine Lee, Alex Parker and Michael Sanchez.

Major kudos to the ANW tech staff:  Keith Mitchell’s verdant drops and Jeremy Pivnick’s ever shifting lighting design combine with impressive sounds from Doug Newell, Zipline Sound. Julie Keen’s lush costumes are… well.. lush.

Casey Stangl’s direction kept things moving, but stage pictures were sometimes off by just a hair.

When all is said… and done…  to mount three shows with major scene and lighting shifts necessary night after night is a gift.  A little culture is good for us.  That ANW culls these somewhat obscure plays from theatre history and makes them work is to their credit.  

The Illusion by Pierre Corneille adapted by Tony Cushner

A Noise Within
3352 East Foothill
Pasadena, CA 91107

Runs in repertory with The Bungler and Antony and Cleopatra
March 18 – May 19, 2012  See website for specific dates
Tickets and information
626 356 3400 Ext. 1
$46 Top

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