Tony Kushner’s “The Illusion” at Signature Theatre Company

Tuesday night I attended a performance of Tony Kushner's adaptation of Pierre Corneille's play "L'Illusion Comique," at Signature Theatre Company on 42nd Street.  This is part of Signature's year-long Kushner retrospective, which included the stunning revival of "Angels in America."  Kushner took the musty old 17th century French play of Corneille and adapted it in splendid English verse, revising, expanding, adding, cutting, and producing an evening's length entertainment that I thought quite splendid.

The idea of the play is that an old pettifogging country lawyer, Pridamant of Avignon, is full of remorse about having thrown his rambunctious young son out of the house many years earlier.  He's heard nothing from the boy since then. Stricken with guilt and curiosity, he seeks out the magician Alcandre for some hint of what has happened to his son.  The play opens with Pridamant wandering into the cave near Remulac where the magician is reputed to hang out.  He encounters the magician, whose spell has Pridament seeing his son engaged in a series of dramatic/comic/tragic scenarios.  Pridament is under the illusion that these are real scenes from his son's life, although he is puzzled that in each scenario the boy seems to have a different name, and even though the people with whom he interacts appear the same, they also have different names and their relationships vary from scenario to scenario.  All is sorted out at the end and the old lawyer goes home somewhat satisfied.

As I said above, this is wonderfully entertaining.  Director Michael Mayer and the Signature production crew have constructed a marvelous entertainment with fine sets, imaginative lighting, great period costumes, and a sterling cast: David Margulies as Pridamant, Lois Smith as the magician, Henry Stram as the magician's servant, Finn Wittrock as the son, and Amanda Quaid, Merritt Wever, Sean Dugan and Peter Bartlett as the others with whom he interacts in the various illusionary scenarios.  And, to top it off, there is haunting incidental music by Nico Muhly, one of my favorite young composers.

This one is highly, highly recommended, and not priced particularly dear, as Signature is presenting it with the assistance of grant money making it possible to charge $20 for tickets.  Many performances are sold out and it is a limited run, so anybody interested should inquire quickly.  Info at


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