ILLUSION
by Pierre Corneille, translated and adapted by Tony Kushner
Directed by Chris Leonard
Spring 2009


Albert Einstein said, "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." Einstein's questionable knowledge of neoclassical French theater notwithstanding, this is precisely the theme of Pierre Corneille's "L'Illusion Comique," written two and a half centuries before Einstein was born. Stage Center Theatre is tackling the relationship between reality and illusion this semester in a production of "The Illusion," an adaptation of Corneille's play by Tony Kushner, directed by Northeastern faculty member Christopher Leonard.

In "The Illusion," Pridamont, an aging and coldhearted lawyer, seeks out the infamous sorcerer, Alcandre, to find out what has become of his estranged son. What he gets is a series of visions featuring the image of his son. Pridamont, Alcandre, and her servant follow the young man through increasingly perilous rivalries and thorny romances. All the while, the young man's identity is in question as his name changes repeatedly. When discrepancies and contradictions in the visions trouble Pridamont, Alcandre dismisses them offhandedly, saying one cannot expect coherence in visions when it is absent in life. Constantly, and quite literally, we are reminded that the threshold between reality and illusion can be crossed back and forth and consequently its boundaries are not at all definite. Not until the very end does Pridamont, as well as the audience, learn the truth about the prodigal son and his fate. And as far as twists go this one is certainly unexpected.

Kushner's adaptation of Corneille's original work focuses on the underlying themes and simplifies the language to allow them to resonate with modern audiences. At its core, "The Illusion" offers up both hilarious and tragic circumstances surrounded by a pressing question: what is reality?

The cast and crew transmit a sense of understanding of the importance of this question, especially as it relates to the stage. Though the existence of an indeterminate supernatural realm from where Alcandre's conjured memories come from adds a mystical dimension to the story, it certainly does not make for an entirely fantastical setting in this production. Quite the opposite, it seems to heighten the awareness that things are not always as they seem. Magic can offer truth and often the things we perceive to be the most real of all, like love, turn out to be illusions. Theater is not just pretend.

The actors enthusiastically embrace the wit and irony that quite possibly make Kushner's adaptation an improvement on the original. Their comedic timing is impeccable and makes this play not only thought-provoking, but hugely amusing as well.

The world of "The Illusion" is a magical place, an entertaining place, and above all, a very truthful place.

"The Illusion" runs Feb. 26-28, March 5-7 and 12-14 at 7:30 p.m. at the Stage Center Theatre in building F. For reservations contact the Stage Center Box Office at (773) 442-4274.

From the Northeastern "Independent" newspaper:
by Sabrina Gasulla

http://www.neiuindependent.com/news/2009/02/24/Entertainment/Promise.In.An.illusion-3644550.shtml

Cast                                                                                            
 
Pridamant of Avignon……..Harold LeBoyer
Amanuensis…………………...Brad Cantwell
Alcandre………………………..Barbara Berndt
Calisto/Clindor……………….Nick Shea
Melibea/Isabelle……………..Shelly Rao
Elicia/Lyse……………………..Colleen McCready
Pleribo/Adraste………………George Christopher
Matamore……………………...Tom Camacho
 
Production Staff__________________________

Producer…………………………………………….Anna Antaramian
Director……………………………………………..Christopher Leonard
Stage Manager…………………………………….Tiffiny Blake
Scenic Designer/Co-Tech. Director……….Jessica Kuehnau
Lighting Designer/Co-Tech. Director…….John Rodriguez
Costume Designer……………………………….Elizabeth Wislar
Choreography……………………………………..R & D Choregraphy
Sound Designer…………………………………..James Mallory
Master Electrion………………………………….Eric Senne
Theatre Manager………………………………...Sara Moss
Box Office Manager…………………………….David Mitchell
House Manager…………………………………..Laura Aldmeyer
Theatre Bookkeeper…………………………...Becca Raven Uminowicz
Poster Designer…………………………………..Cheryl Lyman
Light Board Operator…………………………..LaKeisha Richardson
Sound Board Operator………………………...Laura Gryfinski
Set Crew……………………………………………...Juan Castellon,
                                               Greg Goff,
                                                           Katherine Patnode
Set Construction…………………..……………..Theatre Practicum Class

Message from the Dramaturge________________

Kushner's Illusions

             The Illusion is less a translation of Pierre Corneille's classic 17th century drama than a free adaptation of it. L'Illusion comique  is known widely in French theatrical circles as a 'strange monster.' Much of its reputation has to do with its being so unclassical. It follows none of the Aristotelian unities that are at the heart of French classicism. For example, the story takes up more time than a single day; the action takes place in several locations, separated by many miles. Yet, even in our post Pirandellian theatre (which has no truck with reality or the unities of Aristotle),  Kushner's working of  the 'etrange monstre' retains the original's strangeness, but with a touch more of the monstrous.  Kushner drops the 'comique' (or theatrical) from the title because his emphasis differs from Corneille's. For Kushner, the illusion is two-fold and one of those aspects is dark and unsettling in ways that 17th century playwrights, even in their tragedies, never realized.

The first illusion, and the center of Corneille's version, is entirely theatrical. A magician in a dark cave summons up scenes from the life of a lawyer's banished son. The illusion is that these scene-made of air-seem so real that the lawyer, who has hired the magician, is deeply affected. He is moved to anger, fear, grief.

Obviously, the magician's work is a metaphor for all theatrical enterprise. When we enter a theatre and watch the goings on, on stage, we are compelled to respond to magic. Corneille reminds us over and again of this metaphor by writing into his script echoes and situations from different forms of theatre. These variations are still part of Kushner's enterprise, but not quite as richly available. Corneille gives us scenes from pastoral drama, love comedy, satire, and tragedy. The original French contains the heroic language of epic as well as the 'low' language of servants. Kushner, I think, has a hard time making such distinctions because, mostly, our culture does not believe in them quite.

Nevertheless, Kushner does beef up what is less emphasized in Corneille's version. And that is the idea that love itself is an illusion. Certainly, the self-serving Lothario is no stranger to 17th century drama; Don Juan has been around a long time. But the Don Juan figure in older drama is always balanced against those couples for whom true love is an actual, achievable goal. Not so here. Not so now. The banished son wavers between two choices: a woman for whom he feels true lust and a woman who has lots of money.

 
Darker than that, though, is Kushner's insertion of the cluster of images concerning animals of prey. Very early, the lawyer's son says the following:

       I was hungry;
       I trapped a hawk, a little wire snare
       Snatched it by the red foot and I said
       'That's dinner.'
       But it pleaded with me not to eat it, high heart and all,
       So I released it after making a pact:
       'I set you free; you find me other prey.'
       I followed it; it led me here,
       To your garden, Melibea,
       More wonderful than freedom, or the air itself,
       Where with the hungry  eye of a hawk
       I am watching your every move. My love.

Here begins the animals of prey theme that goes throughout the play. We have cats and rats and snakes and the cry of a hawk several times. The play is seeped in the bloodiness of nature. When the hero and his rival fight to the death over honor, they seem no more honorable or honor bound than the other animals of prey, for the play shows that morality itself is an illusion.

The only redemption is laughter: our laughter. But, like its 17th century precursor, Kushner's Illusion is laughing at fools. Fathers. Sons. Lovers. Warriors. Wives. Maids and manservants. Us.

 
Patrick McGuire
English Dept, University of
Wisconsin-Parkside
 
Cast Profiles_______________________

 


Harold LeBoyer (Pridamant) last appeared on the Stage Center Theatre stage in Scapino back in 1999.  Recent shows include Bye Bye Birdie for Deerfield Family Theatre, My Fair Lady for Stage Right Productions, Any Number Can Die for Theatre D, Beauty and the Beast for Buffalo Grove Park District, and Charley’s Aunt for Wheaton Drama.  Harold is a past president of the Des Plaines Theatre Guild Village Theatre of Palatine.

 


Brad Cantwell (Amanuensis) is pleased to make his Stage Centre Theatre debut.  As a kid Brad was filmed playing a ghost in a local after-school special and bouncing on a trampoline for a Toughskins ad.  He has been seen as Nick in A Thousand Clowns and Whitney in Life with Father.  After graduating from Northwestern University without having set foot in the theatre, he returned to study acting with Ann Woodworth.  Brad is thrilled to work with the wonderful cast and crew of The Illusion, and he thanks the loves of his life, Lisa and McCoy, for their support and inspiration.

 


Barbara Berndt (Alcandre) is appearing for the first time at Stage Center Theatre, though she has had a life-long passion for theatre.  She has previously performed in community, campus, “underground,” and semi-professional productions in WI, IN, and IL.  She is delighted to have been tapped to help create this particular illusion with this great group.  May you spend an enchanting evening in the theatre.


Nick Shea (Calisto/Clindor) is delighted to be making his debut at the Stage Center Theatre with this performance.  Favorite past roles include Reed in The Complete History of America (Abridged), Creon in Antigone, Rasor in The Provok'd Wife, Eilif in Mother Courage and Her Children, Marco in A View from the Bridge, and Larry in Mr. Marmalade.  He is a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA.

 


Shelly Rao (Melibea/Isabelle) is thrilled to return to The Stage Center Theatre, having recently appeared as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. Other favorite roles include Bartholomeus One  in Ionesco's Improvisation, or the Shepherd's Chameleon at The Artistic Home here in town, Jenkins in the world premier of Pushing the Envelope in Arizona and Maggie in Lend Me a Tenor in Oregon.  Her training and performance credits range from musical theatre to Shakespeare. A longtime member of Chicago sketch comedy favorites, monsters from the id, Shelly hopes you will check her out in F*ckjoy at the Side Project in this spring.   

 


Colleen McCready (Elicia/Lyse) is a Senior C.M.T major at N.E.I.U. She was recently seen as Chrysothemis in the Stage Center’s production of Electra and as Kendall Adams in the Thymely Theatre’s production of Stage Door. She is thrilled to be working with such a talented cast and director. Colleen would like to thank her family and friends for their love and support in her acting endeavors, especially Mark and Sebastian. She would also like to thank Anna for her continued support and guidance.

 


George Christopher (Pleribo/Adraste) is making his theatre debut, though he’s been a creator and performer at heart all his life.  He graduated from University of Madison-Wisconsin in 2006.  Since then he has worked in China where he acted, directed, and produced plays.  While in Hong Kong he worked as an extra.  Since returning to Chicago six months ago he has been working more regularly as an actor.

 


Tom Camacho (Matamore) is grateful for being part of this talented cast in this fantastic opportunistic role. This is his fifth production at Northeastern University as he continues his second year as a graduate student in the Communication, Media and Theater Department.  Tom founded, developed and directs The Serendipity Youth Theatre which brings theater to underprivileged Chicago Public Schools.

 


Artistic Staff Profiles                                                      

Christopher Leonard (Director) has a B.A. in Theatre from the University of Central Florida and a M.A. in Linguistics from Northeastern Illinois University.  He has acted in numerous productions at the Stage Center including The Real Inspector Hound, Dracula, and Much Ado About Nothing.  His directing credits include The Actor’s Nightmare, Joe and Stew’s Theatre of Brotherly Love and Financial Success, and Oedi.  Chris is very happy to be working with such a talented cast and crew and would like to sincerely thank each of them for all of their hard work.

Elizabeth Powell Wislar (Costume Designer) has been designing in the Chicago area for over 6 years. Her designs have been seen in collaboration with Lifeline Theatre, Roosevelt University, Bailiwick Arts Center, L'Opera Piccola, Northeastern Illinois University, Reverie Theatre Company, Townsquare Players, The Griffin, Chicago Jewish Theatre, Opera Theatre Highland Park, Loyola University, Northwestern University Opera Department, The Metropolis, Appletree Theatre, Opera Moda, Circle Theatre, Theatre Building Chicago, One Theatre Company, Chicago Chamber Opera, Theatre at the Center, Remy Bumppo, and Light Opera Works.   A few memorable productions: Queen Lucia Chicago After Dark Award for Costume Design and a Jeff Citation Nomination for Costume Design, Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging Jeff Citation Nomination for Costume Design, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, The Silver Chair, Lucia del' Lammermoor, La Traviata, The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro, The Three Penny Opera, Die Fledermaus, Cosi Fan Tutte, Kiss of the Spiderwoman, A Room With A View, Die Zauberfloete (The Magic Flute), Sweeney Todd, Carnival, Design for Living, and The Mikado.   Elizabeth is the 2004 recipient of the Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award.

John Rodriguez (Lighting Designer/Co-Tech Director) joined the theatre faculty at Northeastern four years ago and has been teaching courses in technical theatre as well as working as a designer on Stage Center productions.  This past season he designed the lights for the four main stage productions: Mrs. Warren’s Profession, The Skin of Our Teeth, Private Eyes, and Arcadia and for the two Thymely Theatre productions this summer: Stage Door and Taking Steps.

Jessica Kuehnau (Scenic Designer/Co-Tech Director) is pleased to be designing sets for the Stage Center Theatre. Since completing her MFA in Scenic and Costume Design at Northwestern University, she has been designing sets and costumes for such notable theatres as Lifeline Theatre, MPAACT, The Griffin, Vittum Theatre, Light Opera Works and Metropolis Performing Arts Center. Ms. Kuehnau is also the resident set designer at North Park University.

Tiffiny Nicole Blake (Stage Manager), a Communication, Media, and Theatre major at Northeastern Illinois University, has always had an extreme passion for performing arts. She has been involved in theatre since high school and has been dancing and playing the violin for 17 years. This is the first show that Tiffiny has ever managed and she is delighted to have had the opportunity to work on The Illusion. She hopes you will enjoy the show as much as she has enjoyed working with so many wonderful people.
 
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