Fittingly, nothing is as it seems in The Illusion, Tony Kushner's adaptation of Pierre Corneille's 17th-century play.
Kushner's script is the biggest asset and biggest trouble in Theatre Pro Rata's current production at Park Square's Andy Boss stage. The show is finely acted and gorgeous to look at, but there's an emotional distance that makes for some dry stretches along the way.
See also: Theatre Pro Rata Heads to Park Square for The Illusion
The play focuses on Pridamant, a father who kicked his son out of the home 15 years ago. A recent brush with death has left him concerned about the fate of his son.
He consults Alcandre, an "illusionist" who promises to show him scenes from his son's life over the years. What unfolds is a strange progression of events, with constantly shifting names and odd stock characters: the young lovers, the scheming maid, the scaredy-cat soldier.
There's a reason for that. Corneille used the stock characters of commedia to build up his story. With Pridamant and Alcandre watching, it becomes a play within a play that is as much about the theater as anything else.
Mix that with Kushner's wordy script, and you have a show that sometimes seems to be more fun to act than to watch. The characters spend a lot of time talking about what they are going to do before they actually do it. The dialogue is often entertaining, but it sometimes slows the pace of the play to a crawl.
The actors help to keep The Illusion interesting, topped by Charles Hubbell, who looks like an early 20th-century magician as Alcandre. There's a lot of mystery in Hubbell's performance that helps to keep the play on track. He's aided by Tim Uren, who gives a mostly silent performance as the magician's assistant, the Amanuensis.
The same is true for the players, including Michael Fell as Pridamant's son and Abby DeSanto as his love interest. The most fun comes from Bryan Grusso, who plays up all the ego and manic energy of the delusional soldier, Matamore.
IF YOU GO:
The Illusion Through June 28 Park Square Theatre 20 W. 7th Place, St. Paul $25 For tickets and more information, call 651-291-7005 or visit online.