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Theater Review: "The Illusion" At A Noise Within

Sara Itkis |
April 18, 2012 | 3:53 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter


 Craig Schwarz
Craig Schwarz
“I’ll tell you a story,” says Clindor to the beautiful Isabelle. She asks, “Is the story fact or fantasy?” He replies with another question: “Does it matter?” It certainly doesn’t seem to matter in A Noise Within’s production of “The Illusion,” directed by Casey Stangl. Toying with reality, it explores the concepts memory, truth, and love. Balancing with its deeper themes, “The Illusion” is very much a fresh experience of light, playful and witty storytelling. 

An elegant golden gate attached to nothing; spider-web shadows cast across the stage; blue-green ivy draping across the background, with a color-changing glow emanating from behind it—the word that comes to mind is “magical.” The set, along with the light and sound effects, create a mystical atmosphere, opening the mind to all possibilities, real or fantastical. From the otherwordly blue lighting to the mysterious gate which stands isolated from any wall or boundary, but nevertheless acts as the only hope for entry between one world and another, “The Illusion,” true to its title, does its utmost to enhance the visual illusion of theater. There is little to no set decoration, and props are minimal, though used effectively. The lighting designer Jeremy Pivnick and sound designers Doug Newell and Zipline Sound add much to the production’s magical effect. In one moment, there is a consecutive flash of bright light and then pitch darkness and a character utterly disappears within the blink of an eye. In another instance, a curtain falls dramatically from the sky, accompanied by a shocking clash of cymbals, and once more, a group of characters simply vanish from view. Though not exceedingly complex, these tricks and effects celebrate the possibility of visual illusion and magic.

 Craig Schwarz
Craig Schwarz
With this fantastical world established, the performers inhabit it beautifully, bringing with them humor, drama and wit. Originally written by seventeenth-century French tragedian, “The Illusion” is adapted by Tony Kushner, writer of “Angels in America.” It tells of a repentant father who asks the help of Alcandre, a magician, in an effort to reconnect with his son. Alcandre complies by showing him episodes from his son’s life. The Pulitzer, Tony and Emmy-winning playwright brings much drollery to the dialogue, and the performers encompass their carricature-like characters with full color and heart. Deborah Strang was alluring as the enchantress in whose cave the play takes place, and her deaf and dumb servant, played by Jeff Doba, was certainly formidable. Graham Hamilton was both charming and ridiculous as the hopeless romantic, and had much chemistry with the beautiful Devon Sorvari. Nick Ullett, playing a bumbling father who spends much of the production with his foot in him mouth, and Freddy Douglas, playing the egotistic, wealthy suitor, drew many laughs from the audience. The two who shone brightest, however, were the free-thinking and sexy Abby Craden and the absurd and fanciful Alan Blumenfeld, who had the audience shouting with laughter on more than one occasion. 

All in all, A Noise Within’s “The Illusion” is a production that transcends reality in all aspects. The visual illusions blur the line between what is real and what is magic; the characters break the fourth wall of theater, with a few direct addresses to the audience; and the story itself changes as it develops, with contrasting moods and shifts in narration. The very names of the characters change with each episode. More than anything, “The Illusion” is a loving exploration of the power of storytelling, magic and memory. Whether it is “fact or fiction” is unclear, but, more importantly, it does not matter.

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