NEW PALTZ -- Playwright Tony Kushner, whose stage works include the Pulitzer Prize-winning Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches and Part Two: Perestroika, has crafted a modern rendering of Pierre Corneille's neoclassical French comedy, The Illusion. Offering the exquisite wordplay, beguiling comedy and fierce intelligence found in all of Kushner's work, this witty adaptation is presented by the Department of Theatre Arts at SUNY New Paltz, March 2-12.
Pierre Corneille wrote L'Illusion Comique in 1636; before Le Cid and other tragedies established Corneille's fame as the father of French tragedy. The Corneille-Kushner hybrid, written in 1990, is a wonderful, postmodern work, at once an homage to and a send-up of the conventions and devices of neoclassical comedy: the stock characters, the play within a play, the formulaic plot.
The Illusion follows a contrite father, Pridamant, seeking news of his prodigal son from the sorcerer Alcandre. The magician conjures three episodes from the young man's life. Inexplicably, each scene finds the boy in a slightly different world: names change, allegiances shift, and fairy-tale simplicity evolves into elegant tragedy. Pridamant watches, enthralled by the boy's struggles, but only as the strange tale reaches its conclusion does he confront the ultimate ? and unexpected ? truth about his son. An enchanting argument for the power of theatrical imagination over reality, The Illusion weaves obsession and caprice, romance and murder, fact and fiction, into an enticing exploration of the greatest illusion of all ? love.
On one level, the play works as a two-act meditation on the power of theater and the importance of illusion and storytelling; on another, it is the genuinely moving story of an old man's search for his long-lost son. "The art of illusion," one of Kushner's characters quips, "is the art of love, and the art of love is the blood-red heart of the world."
During his long association with Parisian theatres, French dramatist and poet Pierre Corneille (1606 ? 1684) wrote more than thirty tragedies and comedies. In 1637, the production of his most celebrated play, the tragicomic Le Cid, marked the beginning of a resurgence in French drama. Corneille was elected to the Acad?mie-Fran?ais in 1647.
In addition to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches and Part Two: Perestroika, both of which also received the Tony Award for best play, Tony Kushner plays also include has also written A Bright Room Called Day and Slavs! (Thinking about the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness).
Under the skillful direction of Anita Gonzalez, The Illusion will convey the credo of the Baroque era by deconstructing it.
Costumes by student designer Olga Mill incorporate historically-correct elements such as the farthingale (a hoop worn beneath a skirt to extend it horizontally from the waist) and the pannier (a framework of wire, bone, or other material formerly used to expand a woman's skirt at the hips), but they are covered in transparent fabric that reveals the structure itself.
Set designer and faculty member John Wade worked closely with student lighting designer Jose Santiago to project scenery onto the theatrical environment. Digital imagery is a pioneering process that enables the designers to create multi-layered atmospheres and move quickly between scenes. For example, baroque ornamentation that is appropriate for a pastoral garden fades mysteriously into the fantastical and imposing interior of a cave.
To see a a Quicktime movie of the scene transitions visit www.newpaltz.edu/artsnews/illusion.mov
The SUNY New Paltz production of The Illusion is performed in Parker Theatre on March 2, 3, 4, 9,10, 11 at 8pm, and March 5 and 12 at 2pm. Tickets are $16 adults and $14 seniors and students. All seats are reserved. Tickets are on sale now online at www.newpaltz.edu/theatre. The Parker Theatre Box Office opens February 21 for in-person ticket sales. Box Office hours are Monday-Friday, 11:30am - 4:30pm plus one hour prior to all performances.
Following the Friday, March 10 performance of The Illusion, the audience is invited to remain in the theatre for a talk-back with the artistic staff of the production including the director, designers, dramaturge, and actors. The team will discuss the production as it evolved from concept to execution. Talk-back begins immediately after the performance. It is free and open to all.
Parker Theatre is wheelchair-accessible and equipped with an infrared listening system for the hearing impaired.