Perry Street Theater

The picture pointing to the frame is an essential motif in postmodern literature. That Pierre Corneille’s 1635 L’Illusion Comique exhibits what might be called a postmodern self-consciousness might well explain why an ambitious off-Broadway company like the New York Theater Workshop would commission an adaptation from a talented, quirky playwright like Tony Kushner. In the play, a curmudgeon seeking news of his estranged son visits a sorcerer, who conjures for him three scenes that may be from the boy’s life or may simply play on the father’s susceptibility to illusion. Since we’ve seen a lot of this postmodern stuff (however playful or theoretical), the main interest here is in realizing that the author of Le Cid was testing the inexplicable power of theatrical flimflammery several decades before Pirandello got to it. That kind of theater history is good to know but sometimes difficult to enjoy. Brian Kulick’s production is a valiant exercise that sports several current art-theater trends: casting without regard to race, adapting little-known classics with a modern knowingness, turning limited budgets into virtues by developing resourceful set and lighting designers. What would make it more than a study is fiery acting. This cast is good but mostly callow, with the exception of Arthur Hanket, whose Kevin Kline-like comic flair makes both funny and moving the bumbling lover whose parting words are “On the moon, maybe I’ll dream smaller, less tumultuous dreams.”

7 Days, October 5, 1988