Thursday, March 2, 2017

“The Illusion”: A Playful Stretch of the Imagination at North Coast Rep

If someone told me 25 years ago that one day I would see Kandis Chappell (“Collected Stories”, “Lion In Winter”, “Desert Cities”, “Pygmalion”, “King o’ the Moon”, “Road to Mecca” just to mention a few in her esteemed career.) in dreadlocks, I would have told them they were crazy. But a lot of what we see and presume to know in life is all illusion and we might never see those dreads again on her.  

There is no mistaking that the sonorous voice behind the actor, easily recognizable whether in dreads (Peter Herman), illusionist in flowing gowns (Elisa Benzoni) or in regal splendor is one that captures and captivates. And so she does in North Coast Repertory’s current production of Tony Kushner’s (“Angels in America”)“The Illusion” ‘freely’ adapted from the work of Pierre Corneille 17th century comedy L’Illusion Comique through March 19th.
Kandis Chappell
She’s but one member of a very impressive ensemble at NCR.  Chappell’s return to NCR is a plus for this production whose character is afforded some wise prophesies, some statuesque moments not to mention her larger than life persona as the play weaves on to an unpredictable conclusion.

The story takes place in the tree cave of the magician Alcandre (a very different and expansive Marty Burnett’s set) outside of southern France. An elderly gent/lawyer by the name of Pridamant (John Herzog) enters the cave looking for the illusionist Alcandre. He has a confession to make, one he is ashamed of but is in need of answers none -the -less. 

John Herzog and John Greenleaf
His first stop is when he runs into what looks like a monk or perhaps someone from the evil empire as the mute Amanuensis (an excellent John Greenleaf), dressed in a hooded gown and holding a giant branch looking cane in one hand, startles him to the point of his almost exiting.

He confesses to the man that his only son, ‘who was uncontrollable, wild and dangerous’ (“I loved him so much I wanted to strangle him.”), ran away from home never to be heard from again. Now “I want to tell him I love him” …”I want to speak to him…”Unbeknownst to him, his confession falls on deaf ears. (I’ll let you find out why when you see the show).

Finally Alcandre enters, listens and agrees to let Pridamant see what his son has been up to since he ran away from home.  “I’ll show you his life just as he’s lived it, since you’ve cast him off. How it ends, I cannot say.” 

Directed with panache by artistic director, David Ellenstein (who once acted in this very play some 20 years ago) knows the material well enough to have assembled a most talented group of young and beautiful actors to fulfill the obligations needed to pull this wordy, prophetic and excellently acted play off to it’s mouth dropping and quite funny finale.

Shakespeare said ‘All the world’s a stage and all the men and women are merely players…’ And so the story begins behind a curtain looking much like a still life. Three different scenarios and three different mini love scenes evolve telling the story of what happened to Pridamant’s son.

Christina L. Flynn, Michael Polak and Sharon Rietkerk
First is his youthful affair as a young, impoverished and in love pup Calisto/Clindor/Theogenes (the handsome and buff Michael Polak) with the beautiful, rich and charming Malibea/Isabelle/Hippolyta (Sharon Rietkerk).  With a of bit help from her trustworthy and not so trustworthy maid Elicia/Lyse/Clarina (the equally beautiful and captivating Christina L. Flynn) the young man is led to believe that he is her one and only.
Michael Polak and Andrew Ableson
 Other distractors and rivals for her hand come in the form of the dandy Matamore (Andrew Ableson) and his more evil counterpart Pleribo/Adraste/Prince Florilame (Paul Turbiak). Each short vignette gives us insight into the fortunes, or not of the various characters and lovers and the advances made as they mature. Each set gets a little more detailed and to some extent extreme, not to mention comical.

Michael Polak and Paul Turbiak
Pridamant watches with interest but is definitely confused by the changes and the fact that his son is no longer the innocent he started out to be. With a bit of blathering and some interest as to the whereabouts of his son, and a whole lot of sound advise from Alcandre, dare I say that ‘all’s well that end’s well?” That is unless you are Calisto’s pompous father.

With Kushner’s loose translation, a cast well up to the task of bringing some beautiful poetry to the fore, excellent light by MattNovotny, Melanie Chen's sound design and some pretty fine acting, I will admit you are in for a treat.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through March 19th
Organization: North Coast Repertory Theatre
Phone: 858.481.1055
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach, CA 92075
Ticket Prices: Start at $49.00
Photo: Aaron Rumley


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