Tony Kushner’s luxurious adaptation of Pierre Corneille’s 1636 comedy “L’Illusion Comique”– here known as The Illusion— gets the gilded treatment at Fresno City College. FCC staff and students, under the direction of Janine Christl, give this linguistically juicy, visually stimulating production their full powers to great effect.
The play itself is a treatise on illusion, story, memory, love, and the great power of the theater itself. Best known for the epic Angels in America, Kushner is not immediately known for lighthearted plays, but The Illusion is, of course, deceiving on that score. Beneath it’s comic set up is an undercurrent of serious thoughtfulness. It is a brilliant choice for production- hovering somewhere between classic and contemporary.
And magical. We can’t forget the magic.
The magic is really where the heart of this FCC production lies. The power of the staging and lighting is integral to the work and is executed flawlessly. Set design by Christopher R Boltz successfully creates the appropriate atmosphere for an otherworldly magician’s cave, while his rich and specific lighting design provides some of the best magic tricks in the show– complete with misdirection and magical reveal. Debbi Shapazian’s luxe period costumes, which are incredibly well researched and executed beautifully, also highlight the classic form while looking very appealing to the modern eye. The full use of the technical staff’s capabilities are on display in this production.
But the real magic happens in the student acting and the buoyant direction of Christl. The first powerful taste we get of The Illusion’s world is from Keshawn Keene’s Alcandre– the magician– with his rich voice and powerful presence ruling his little world. As his magical foil is the versatile Ben McNamara as his servant The Amanuensis, who contorts his long limbs into an almost spider-like stance, taught and ready to strike.
Down below the set’s rocky upper-levels, are a dashing Jono Cota as the young romantic lead, Bridget Manders as the grandly cultivated ingenue, and Lena Auglian as the bold chambermaid. Each play their part well, crafting their scenes with a comedic energy and intelligence. Manders, in particular, activates the language of her role with skill allowing for nuance and change in colors for her character(s). David Manning is also a standout in his role of Matamore the fop, flipping the cliches of his first act performance into a turn of great consideration and feeling in the second. Josh Hanson as the romantic rival and Luis Ramentes as the longing, if unimaginative, father, round out the cast with solid performances.
But the real stand out is actually Christl, who manages to shape and form a fantastical ride full of love, betrayal, magic, swordfights, death and laughs into a beautifully executed “prestige” at the end of the play– and still had room for one of the most theatrical moments I’ve seen onstage in a long time.
The Illusion is one terrific magic trick. Don’t look away, or you might miss it!
The Illusion plays at Fresno City College Theater, October 12, 13, 14, and 15 at 7:30 p.m. and October 9 and 15 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $14 general, $12 student/seniors/FCC Staff, $6 groups of 10 or more. Box office: (559) 442-8221 or firstname.lastname@example.org