“The Illusion” Sound Theatre Company’s Production at Center Theatre

What in this world is real and what is not real? What is love? What is it that makes family relationships so difficult? These are questions that Tony Kushner the adaptor and Pierre Corneille the 17th C. writer put forward in this Baroque fairy tale about a repentant father seeking the son he disowned long years ago. To find that son, he visits the magician, Alcandre in her underground cave.

To me, Corneille’s play is ho-hum, but Kushner’s language has its own beauty. And in this production it is spoken within a magical set, superbly lit, and visually enchanting. The stage is an imaginative grotto where erosion has carved the cleverly designed “rock” walls, creating passages, platforms and openings. As the action takes place, those openings become windows to the real world, showing sylvan greenswards, castles, and even a magnificent planet earth rising over the moon. And through those openings and a cloud of fog appear key players, including the banished son. Spooky opening music, wonderful set, and lush costumes all speak to the talents of Director Teresa Thuman and her production staff.

Among the actors, special praise goes to Hannah Mootz in her roles as maidservant and anguished lover. She’s tart, mischievous, love sick; she’s a dutiful servant as well as a conniving one. She’s a total delight to watch as she manipulates those who are her superiors.

The other cast standout is Frank Lawler. Oh what a fabulous fop, what a dopey dandy he is with his kewpie-doll mouth paint and velvet coat. He steals the stage whenever he’s on it. The only disappointment among the actors is Eva M. Abram who overplays her role as the magician/sorcerer  conjuring up episodes from the lost son’s past.

Sadly, the beautiful staging and generally good acting don’t overcome the weaknesses of the play. Corneille once called it, “an extravagant trifle.” That’s still an accurate description.

Through August 26, Center Theatre at the Armory in Seattle Center, (www.brownpapertickets.com/event/257760 or 1 800 838-3006)

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