Balancing your third coffee of the day and an armload of books, you’re knocked out of your caffeinated coma by a couple slightly overexcited for their evening rendezvous. At this point in your cold, wet nightmare, you come to realize Valentine’s Day on Yale’s campus isn’t quite all it’s cracked up to be.
And if you’re still finding yourself contemplating the answers to the eternal questions posed by V-Day — what is love, what are candy hearts or simply what’s the shortest path to the moon — your weekend should definitely include “The Illusion” at the Yale Cabaret.
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Adapted for the stage by Tony Kushner and directed by Erik Pearson DRA ’09, Pierre Corneille’s “The Illusion” is the story of one man’s search for answers. Desperate to discover the fate of his son, Pridamant (Christopher McFarland DRA ‘09) confronts a mysterious sorcerer, Alcandre (Luke Robertson DRA ‘09). Per his request, Alcandre conjures before them three recent episodes of the boy’s life.
To his surprise and dismay, Pridamant cannot interact with the conjured images on display. Instead, he must act as if he were the member of an audience watching a performance as its plot becomes increasingly complex, unfolding with a wealth of unforeseen intricacies. It is only at the conclusion of the illusions that Pridamant finally learns the unexpected truth about his son.
“The Illusion” is at once a drama and comedy, a progression and regression. Its strength lies in its continuous variation and seeming self-contradiction. The originally fairy tale-like story transforms throughout the hour into a sophisticated tragedy.
The element of persistent change demonstrates a key theme of the production — the idea that there is a thin line between reality and illusion. The play seems to argue that reality can be constructed, and once completed, it is difficult to discern from illusion. The audience learns this lesson alongside Pridamant as the events progress.
Simultaneously master of ceremonies and creator of the unfolding other world, Alcandre controls the flow of the play for both Pridamant and the audience in the cabaret. He is the master of reality and illusion, a role that echoes the underlying theme of deception.
In keeping with this theme, Alcandre meticulously sets the stage for each of the primary three scenes. Constructing the venue for each distinct setting, he rearranges six white, potted trees adorned with blue leaves to signify a new place and time in the saga of the son’s life. Each episode depicts a slightly altered world in which names and allegiances have changed, and the rules of engagement are expanded.
The three major scenes proceed with brief respites for Pridamant’s reactions and speculations juxtaposed with commentary by the shrewd Alcandre. The result is the drama of the construction of reality and names are but a detail in its understanding.
Indisputably talented acting in this production is amplified by a scholarly script full of wit and pith. The result is an evening of theater that simultaneously impresses as artistic endeavor, scholarly discourse and entertaining enterprise. And even with periodic lines strangely arrayed in iambic pentameter, the show serves as a serious inquiry on human emotion.
The comedic talents of naive Calisto (Eric Bryant DRA ‘09) alongside the machinations of Clarina (Teresa Avia Lim DRA ‘09), the candor of Melibea (Lisa Birnbaum DRA ‘07) and obstinacy of Adraste (Jospeh Gallagher DRA ‘07) makes for dynamic chemistry. The emotional intensity of love and deceit, lust and intrigue, are tempered by the blunt comedy of Matamore (Alex Knox DRA ‘09). And still, the wealth of characters increases as each episode brings with it a host of individuals presenting still more emotional complexity. The comedy continues as the tragedy unfolds, making for a story that is irresistible in its caprice.
“Love is the world’s infinite mutability,” the play asserts. Pointing out that violence is a manifestation of one of the many dimensions of love, this production highlights the myriad forms of passion. Loaded statements like, “Want yes, but want less,” make the play a philosophical undertaking, even while it maintains its entertainment value.
The performance concludes with a surprise ending that reminds the audience of the subtle depths of illusion. Playing with themes of reality and emotion, “The Illusion” leaves the audience seriously questioning whether all the world isn’t a stage.