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Theater Review: "The Illusion"

John Greenleaf & Kandis Chappell in "The Illusion."
Photo credit:
Aaron Rumley

Love, death, regret, self-recrimination, scheming and – oh yes – good old sorcery are on display in “The Illusion,” Tony Kushner’s 1994 reworking of Pierre Corneille’s 17th-century “L’Ilusion Comique,” playing through March 19 at North Coast Repertory Theatre. David Ellenstein directs an extremely capable cast.

This is your basic dad-looking-for-runaway-son story, but using a sorcerer instead of a private investigator.

Dad Pridamont (John Herzog) visits the eerie, almost creepy cave of magician Alcandre (Kandis Chappell) for help in locating absent son Clindor (Michael Polak), who ran away 15 years ago.

Pridamont is filled with regret: “I destroyed my son,” he wails, and says “I can’t face death until I see him again.”

Alcandre (regal, sniffy at times, almost friendly at others) allows that yes, she can show Pridamont what his son has been doing.

This sets us up for a wild ride through three eras of Clindor’s life, where we’ll see three sets of people (played by one set of actors) in a clever, tour-de-force piece combining elements of magic, reality and theater in somewhat the way Kushner’s later “Angels in America” trilogy does. 

The stock characters – the clever maid (charmingly played Christine L. Flynn) and the romantic rival for the young lady (Paul Turbiak, amusing as a variably capable opponent) – serve as comic foils for the main event in each story.

A character named Matamore (called a “lunatic” in the script), deserves special mention. Played by Andrew Ableson, he is a foppish buffoon (and almost seems a deliberately awful person). Ableson gets visual help from Elisa Benzoni’s hilariously ghastly costumes.

Meanwhile, our protagonist Clindor morphs over time from fresh-faced young suitor to committed philanderer and opportunist (which doesn’t cheer his father), but as Alcandre puts it, “There’s nothing in these visions that you can’t expect from life.”

What, is that all?

Well, no. Pridamont hasn’t yet seen the ending – the cleverest part – and I’m not about to reveal it. 

It’s a pleasure to welcome San Diego favorite Chappell back to town.

Her interpretations are always spot-on, and Alcandre is no exception. 

Mike Burnett’s impressive stage-wide cave set, Melanie Chen’s otherworldly sound design and Matt Novotny’s lighting are decided pluses in the tech department, but for my money Elisa Benzoni’s fabulous costumes are the real stars.

Though “The Illusion” has some slow spots, a big part of the pleasure of the show is its poetry. Alcandre ends the story with this lovely comment: “The art of illusion is the art of love, and the art of love is the blood-red heart of the world.”

Who could argue with that?

The details

“The Illusion” plays through March 19, 2017 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach.

Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm

Tickets: (858) 481-1055 or northcoastrep.org