June 12, 2012 @ 11:36 pm
During our broke undergraduate glory days, a friend of mine threatened to become a romance writer. He had his first two titles picked out already, and he figured all he had to do to turn Hot Winds from Bombay into Cool Breezes from Kiev was a few judicious find/replace operations, so that “sea captain” would become “Cossack” and “mangroves” would be “taiga.”
Tony Kuschner’s The Illusion, freely adapted from a nearly 400-year old French “tragicomedy,” has some of that flavor, but in a really good way. A father (a lawyer, no less) enters the cave of the magician Alcandre, seeking news of his vanished son. The wizard proceeds to show the father a series of visions, each one showing his son in love – and in trouble. The two go together, apparently.
The names change, the costumes change, and the winners and losers change as Alcandre systematically recombines the elements, searching the father’s emotional parameter space like an enzyme folding into the one conformation that will catalyze a cathartic reaction (somewhat like the work of Mark Pizatto, trying to optimize dramatic performances through scientific methods), but the dynamics between the characters remain the same.
There’s love, there’s ego, there’s rivalry and rebellion against authority, there’s betrayal and recriminations and violence. It’s stating the obvious, in a way, from an evolutionist’s perspective. Human males want as many female partners as possible, from the Queen of Iceland to the maid, the “Medusa of the linen closet.” Women want strength and resources (ALL the resources). Neither gender is willing to share. Those patterns are constant, and their mismatch can never be permanently reconciled. The rules of the game don’t change. It’s only the details of how the players try to get more than they give that are endlessly, inventively ramifying like pheromone-scented snowflakes. What was it Alcambre said? “Complexities accumulate?” Something like that.
The 1600s were a time like ours, when science was striking sparks off of art and religion. When there were arms races of imagery, linguistic duels between showoff playwrights, like freestyling poets at a coffee house open-mike night. Maybe it’s not so strange that a 400-year-old play could feel so fresh. Bravo to Triad Stage for putting it on and for pulling it off so well.