Waterworks Players presents ‘The Illusion’

Published 10:44 am Tuesday, June 19, 2018

After an enthusiastic Friday opening, the Waterworks Players’ presentation of “The Illusion” continues this weekend with two final shows Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. The tale of a father and his estranged son, this staging—directed by Clint Wright—arrives at an opportune time, just as the Father’s Day holiday invites us to scrutinize and celebrate family relationships. With a moody, inventive script, an intrepid cast and a solid technical production, “The Illusion” sustains the Waterworks Players’ string of engaging, successful performances.

Tony Kushner’s script, an adaptation of French playwright Pierre Corneille’s L’Illusion Comique, uses the concept of a play-within-a-play to explore the mysteries of paternal love. Kushner and Corneille are among the most influential writers of their eras. Kushner’s “Angels in America” won the Tony award for Best Revival just 10 days ago, while Corneille shaped classical theater in the 17th century with his canonical Horace and Le Cid. Yet, Kushner, much like Corneille before him, wrote his father/son drama before he truly hit his stride, giving this work a sense of unfinished risk—a testing of boundaries, both theatrical and filial.

When the play opened in New York, The New York Times outlined the story: “Consumed by guilt, a hotheaded father yearns to learn what has become of the impetuous son he banished 15 years earlier. To that purpose, he repairs to the cave of Alcandre, a potent magician who can conjure the past out of pitch blackness. Obligingly, Alcandre summons up a series of glittery scenes in which the son, a penniless fortune hunter, experiences all the vicissitudes of love and betrayal, lands in prison, escapes and is eventually stabbed to death by a jealous husband.”

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Kushner’s script, at times pithy and profound, showcases the talents of the local cast particularly well. Erik Varela launches what is sure to be a long Waterworks career as Pridamant, a heartsick but animated curmudgeon longing for news of his unsettled son, played winningly by Randall Linkins. Veteran performer Leigh Lunsford portrays the sorcerer Alcandre as a hoity-toity know-it-all, simultaneously frightening and alluring, seductive and repulsive, omnipotent yet insecure—the embodiment of the vagaries of love. When Pridamant wonders why he cares so deeply about the child he chased away, Alcandre delivers one of the play’s most memorable speeches: “And yet love’s more mineral, more dense, more veined with gold and corrupted with lead, more bitter and more weighty than the earth’s profoundest matter.”

Others in the eight-member cast are equally engaging. Patricia Carter is especially enchanting in her tripartite role as the son’s evolving love interests Melibea, Isabelle and Hippolyta. By turns fiery and coy, Carter demonstrates a versatile range of emotions and a captivatingly regal and restrained stage presence.

James Early as a rival suitor and Charlotte Trant as a conniving handmaiden glue the production together, while Jordan Whiley’s vainglorious Matamore—the last to arrive onstage—delivers comically overblown insults and crowd-pleasing bursts of farce. One of the most fascinating characters is the one who says the least. Krishon Preston, playing the wizard’s mute servant and an angry father, is arresting in all of his scenes.

Special recognition is reserved for both lighting designer Scott Chapman, whose own wizardry balances the emotionally and physically dark setting of the story, and costumers Hannah Boswell and Mara Connelly, who outfit all the characters with distinctive and beguiling personalities. Lunsford’s outlandish hair alone is worth the price of admission.

Tickets for the shows Friday and Saturday are available at waterworksplayers.org. The Waterworks Theatre is located on Industrial Park Road in Farmville.