Chicago Theatre Review
A Great Love Begins with a Great Story
The Illusion -Right Brain Project
This theatre company kicks off their 10th season with a play that literally plunges its audience into darkness, much like its main character. Pridamant, a father seeking assistance from a mysterious magician, is in search of the truth about his missing son. He travels throughout France by night in search of answers. As theatergoers huddle together on rows of hard, wooden benches, they come to realize that they’re actually seated within a large cave, dimly lit by the glow of a single candle. Imaginatively designed by Katie-Bell Springman, stories can be seen everywhere. The playing area is dominated by the face of a giant clock, but framed by a beautiful false proscenium constructed from hundreds of works of fiction. The walls are completely lined with pages and there’s a rolling stool made entirely from books. The audience feels as if they’ve journeyed to this remote, magical countryside cavern along with Pridamant. Kudos to Stephen Gawrit for enhancing the effect with his moody, atmospheric sound design, composed of dripping water, thunder, wind and wispy strains of music. Eric Vigo’s candle and moonlit-inspired lighting plot reinforces this totally immersive theatrical experience.
Prolific playwright Tony Kushner, known primarily for his Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning “Angels in America,” parts one and two, adapted the 17th century comedy, “L’Illusion Comique,” by Pierre Corneille, into a modern, more accessible version of his comedy. His spirited play tells what happens when a father, desperate for news about his prodigal son, enlists the aid of a legendary magician. Pridamant (contritely played by Nate White) persuades the reclusive sorceress Alcandra (Liz Goodson in a powerful, eloquent performance, complete with the mastery of some spectacular magic tricks), to conjure up images from the young man’s life. As each scene plays out before our eyes, names change, allegiances shift and characters perish. By the end of this two-hour play, both Pridamant and the audience have learned the surprising truth about the boy.
Artistic Director Nathan Robbel stages this first production of the season with a look to the past and a dedication to the company’s growing future. This interesting production is a celebration of storytelling. Pridamant, witnessing the magician’s conjured tales, becomes the audience’s surrogate. Together we observe his son’s journey, the characters he’s encountered and the repercussions of his interactions. In the play’s unexpected conclusion, it comes down to what’s most accurate: reality or a misdirected perception.
Elizabeth Bagby, the production’s greatest actor, plays the most captivating and interesting character. She’s a servant woman, alternately called Elicia, Lyse and finally Clarina. With precise clarity of tongue and intention, this lovely actress voices Kushner’s thoughts and words with clarity, skill and finesse. Stevie Chaddock as Melibea/Isabelle/Hippolyta demonstrates a strength and determination in spite of all odds. She’s the consummate coy and fickle lover, sashaying around the tiny stage in her pink pumps and panniers. Handsome as he is clever, Joseph Ramski plays Pridamant’s wayward son with a boyish charm and a warrior’s swagger, whether he’s called Calisto, Clindor or Theogenes. Jared McDaris makes a swashbuckling Matamore, with all the wink-and-nudge humor of Inigo Montoya, from “The Princess Bride.”
Tony Kushner’s modern twist on an old classic offers aspects of love and hatred, poetic language and anachronistic period costumes (cunningly conceived by Megan Merrill), magic tricks and swordplay, in a delightful tale of love and intrigue. Lighter than most of Kushner’s plays, this production offers an intoxicating Spring evening of 17th century language mixed with 21st century sensibilities. There’s something for every taste here. But be warned that a clear head and an attentive eye and ear are needed in order to fully enjoy this comic melodrama, in which a great love begins with a great story…or possibly two, or maybe three, or even perhaps…
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Present March 18- April 11 by The Right Brain Project, at 4001 N. Ravenswood Ave., Chicago.
Tickets may be reserved by going to www.tickets@TheRBP.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.