The seats are soft and the leg room generous at the Signature Theatre off-Broadway, which follows “Angels in America” with an adroit revival of “The Illusion,” Tony Kushner’s meditation on life in and out of the theater.
And illusion it is. By the end of its two and a half hours, the play is revealed as a kind of scam -- something layered and thoughtful masquerading as a fanciful trifle.
“Freely adapted” by Kushner from Pierre Corneille’s “L’Illusion Comique” and set in 17th-century France, it is the tale of a hard-hearted, wealthy lawyer named Pridamant (David Margulies). He’s arrived at a cave to meet the sorcerer Alcandre (Lois Smith). He wants her to find his artistic son, whom the stern father drove away years earlier.
Instead, Alcandre shows Dad his son’s life since being cast out. The father can only watch as handsome and caddish Calisto (Finn Wittrock) charms a wealthy maiden (Amanda Quaid) and her maid (Merritt Wever).
Kushner’s gift for language is everywhere in evidence. But if you don’t go with the fanciful flow “The Illusion,” directed by Michael Mayer, may seem stilted and slow. The acting is uniformly solid, with Smith a commanding, intimidating presence, worlds away from her performance in Signature’s 2005 revival of “The Trip to Bountiful.”
Wever, hot blooded and convincing as she comfortably switches in and out of verse, is the production’s discovery. Wittock and Sean Dugan also are noteworthy for some spectacular swordplay, overseen by Rick Sordelet, Broadway’s fight director of choice.
Through July 17 at 555 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-244-7529; http://www.signaturetheatre.org Rating: **1/2
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(Philip Boroff is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)