The Illusion is a play about theatre, and no better way to end Triad Stage’s award-winning 11th season.
Billed as a comic fantasy, Tony Kushner’s adaptation of The Illusion (based on French playwright Pierre Corneille’s 1636 work, L'Illusion comique) brings all of Triad Stage's collective talents to the fore, and they are, as usual, astounding. Comical, eye-popping, and mesmerizing, it ties the season up in an anything-but-neat package, but one that is a delight to unwrap.
To begin, an observer must ask herself, "Where am I?" when entering the environment of this set. The catacombs of Paris? A metro station in Stockholm? Under a bridge? It could be any or all of the above, adding to the mystical feeling of the space. Turns out artistic director Preston Lane and scenic designer Alexander Dodge used a sculpture by Alexander Calder as inspiration for the giant set installation. Other Calder-esque pieces in bright red were fashioned by properties master Amy Peter and are masterpieces in themselves. After this season, a Triad Stage prop-art auction is definitely in order.
The adaptation has obviously changed the original play into a modern one, but the themes of loneliness, passion and longing remain. A father enlists the services of a magician to find his long-lost son whom he banished from his life years ago. Richard Hollis, in his Triad Stage debut, plays Pridamant of Avignon – let's just call him "the dad" – as remorseful and desperate as a lawyer at his worst can get. Perhaps you caught Hollis playing another father figure in Tim Burton's recently-released black comedy, Dark Shadows.
Richard M. Davidson, a Canadian-born theatre veteran in his TS debut, is Alcandre the magician. Adam Kampouris is Calisto, the focus of all this abracadabra. Kampouris, a UNCG BFA student, is making his TS debut after a moving Paper Lantern role in Next Fall. Following his follies in this show is farcical and fun, and his performance seems to get sharper as the show goes on. It's not hard to imagine Kampouris as a great Charlie Chaplin impersonator in Asheville Vaudeville.
Maggie Lea in her TS debut and Brittany Polk, most recently seen in TS's Masquerade, make this show more dynamic as the maidservant/mistress duo. Lea's shenanigans provide plenty of laughter, and both these UNCG theatre students are obviously headed for the bright lights.
The scene-stealer in this show would have to be Mickey Solis as Matamore, who gives a break-out performance in his TS debut. Goofy expressions, crazy costumes and off-the-wall gestures and movements make Solis hilarious even before he utters a word. This TV and theatre veteran and Harvard MFA pushes this production over the top.
Rounding out the cast are Kirby Wahl, an Elon University associate professor and an ominous Amanuensis (read: sidekick); and Patrick Ball, last seen in the thrilling Dial 'M' for Murder at Triad Stage.
What can't take a bow, but should be able to, are the costumes, probably some of the most fantastic of the season. Kudos to Bill Brewer, who last designed for TS's New Music. The costumes mark the setting and the passing of time in this show, and it's a thrill to see nods to the 1950s, '60s and '70s. There's a gold disco dress (emphasis on the discs) and even a painted Andy Warhol-inspired frock.
Also pushing the envelope in this show is lighting designer John Wolf, whose projections have thrilled in many TS productions including A Christmas Carol, and who, sadly, is leaving Triad Stage for a position in the theatre department at Wayne State University. Wolf will be missed.
Triad Stage has said good-bye to several of its members recently, including dramaturg Drew Barker,* costume designer Kelsey Hunt, and marketing director Steven Box, so it is a bittersweet season's end. As Lane said in his customary opening-night toast, "What we do is bring great people together."
Keep doing what you do, Preston Lane!
The show continues through July 1. For details, see the sidebar.