The Illusion, Cantadora Productions, at Stage Left Theatre. Without revealing the surprise ending, let me say that large portions of Pierre Corneille’s The Illusion are meant to seem ever so slightly phony. The difficulty modern American producers of this 1636 verse comedy face is ensuring that the audience recognizes the artificiality to be intentional rather than the product of ham acting. Unlike the more frequently performed Kushner adaptation, Ranjit Bolt’s academically accurate translation retains Corneille’s plot and language structure throughout, which proves the undoing of this Cantadora Productions debut.
The problem isn’t that the young cast assembled by director Jennifer Evans Ward are unacquainted with the cliches of classical declamation–elongated vowels, overliteral gestures, exaggerated emotions–but that this interpretive style is used by the denizens of both the real and the false worlds of the play. Then in the second act the actors simply abandon this style and zip through their speeches in lockstep recitation. They manage to keep their footing amid the heroic couplets, but their performances are more imposed on than integrated with the text, to the detriment of both.
–Mary Shen Barnidge