Theatre Pro Rata has had the farcical adventure The Illusionist in its back pocket for quite a while. The longstanding company was looking for just the right time.
That time comes this weekend, when Pro Rata presents its first production at the Andy Boss Thrust Stage at Park Square Theatre.
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"We wanted to make a big splash with our first production as we introduce ourselves to the Park Square audience," says Carin Bratlie, Theatre Pro Rata's artistic director and director of this production.
The Illusion is a recent adaptation of L'Illusion Comique, a 17th-century piece by Pierre Corneille. In it, a desperate father, Pridamant, wants to find his missing son. He turns to an illusionist, Alcandre, to uncover the whereabouts of the lost boy.
Nothing is as simple as it seems, especially as the boy's various adventures play out in scenes-within-scenes throughout the play.
The version of The Illusion Theatre Pro Rata is tackling comes from the pen of Angels in America scribe Tony Kushner.
"This new version has become sort of the standard version, and I can see why. When we read it, it was the only time in the history of our play reading that the actors said they would come back again the next day and read it again. The actors had a blast. It was so much fun. It's a wonderful adventure story with wonderful language. We really felt it was a perfect fit," Bratlie says.
The play-within-a-play structure offered some intriguing challenges, especially as the Boss Stage is a thrust. To that end, Pro Rata has created a proscenium where the father and magician can observe the action as it unfolds on the main part of the stage.
"You need to have a sense of these guys watching this play happening. When it was originally done in the 17th century, these actors were in the audience. We've flipped that. With the thrust, the audience is all around the main action," Bratlie says.
The production also plays up the illusion side of the equation. "There are certain times where we have theater magic, and times when things happen that the audience will not understand how we did it. There's a lot of magic in the show. It's not rabbits out of hats, but more, 'How did they do that?'" Bratlie says.
All of this puts a lot of pressure on the company. You can add the rich language and story of the show to that equation. "Kushner took all of these characters and ideas and he dug deeper into them. He made them more complex and more nuanced. He gave them greater dimensions," Bratlie says.
The company is topped by Charles Hubbell as Alcandre and Paul de Cordova as the father. It also includes Kelsey Cramer, Abby DeSanto, Michael Fell, Bryan Grosso, Ben Tallen, and Tim Uren.
"I wanted people who could handle the language and who have a real strong ability to make classical language sound real. All of the actors have that. They also needed to have great comedic chops. They have to be able to jump in and go for it. They are all bringing their A game to the table," Bratlie says.
IF YOU GO:
The Illusion Previews Thursday; opens Friday 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.