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LA Theater Review

The Illusion

The lofty, formal, rhetorical tragedies of Pierre Corneille (1606–84) have never gained much of a foothold outside of France, but this philosophical comedy-fantasy has earned a welcome place in the English-speaking theater. It tells the tale of a father, Pridamant (Kevin McCorkle), whose judgmental attitude toward his son Clindor (Benny Wills) drove the boy away. Now the repentant father seeks out a sorcerer, Alcandre (Alexander Wright), to try to find his son or at least learn his fate. Alcandre shows Pridamant a vision, in the form of a play, of Clindor's life.

The boy has become the roguish servant of the egotistical but cowardly fop Matamore (Jon Monastero), who is paying court to the beautiful Isabelle (Nicole Disson). But when Matamore attempts to employ him as a go-between, Clindor woos and wins the lady for himself. Then, not satisfied, he turns caddish, seduces the (offstage) wife of his lord and benefactor, and is sentenced to death for his pains. But things are not what they seem, and once reality and illusion are sorted out, the plot is resolved in happily unexpected fashion.

Translator Ranjit Bolt provides a clever and actable version of the play, rendered in witty rhyming couplets, and director David Bridel has given it an elegantly stylized, if sometimes bloodless, production. Set designer Kis Knekt lavishly depicts the stage of a Baroque theater, filled with gorgeous brocades. The costumes, by Christina Wright, are more of a mixed bag: Some are gorgeous, while others verge on clunky.

Wills and Disson skillfully capture the romantic ardor of the young lovers, while Kendra Chell seethes with vengeful vindictiveness as a woman scorned. Jason Greenfield scores as a bewigged rejected suitor, and Wright makes an imposing figure of the sinister magician. But the acting honors must go to Monastero as the lisping braggart Matamore; he turns the character into a flamboyantly sui generis figure of loony egotism and would-be gallantry, graceful but hilariously absurd.

Presented by and at the Open Fist Theatre Company, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A. Sept. 26–Nov. 21. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (323) 882-6912.

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