This production has nothing to do with the other Illusion that played a few months ago at New Langton Arts: The director of this one just figured he could stage a better show. Tony Kushner adapted Pierre Corneille's 1635 play L'Illusion Comique as a metaphor for theater, as well as love, and maybe life itself -- so the play has a philosophical dimension that seems at home in the new part-time theater space at Gurdjieff Hall, on Potrero Hill. It also takes place in a cave, and the hall obliges the performance by feeling hot and cramped. When a down-to-earth lawyer, Pridament, asks a cave-dwelling magician for news about his son, the magician shows him visions of the young man's busy life. Pridament watches the boy fall in love, fight his rivals, change his name (three times), and get killed. These visions literally amount to three plays-within-the-play, because the son is an actor. Now, I've just ruined the show's key surprise, but if you sit there wondering what's going on for too long you may get bored, because The Illusion takes 2 1/2 hours. It's better to know what's coming. Director Ben Yalom improves on the New Langton Arts production with innovative atmospherics and excellent music (by Todd Barker). Under blue and fuchsia light, dream-world beings hover around the magician's illusions and undulate with buffon-style movement; they move on and off as needed, temporarily becoming real people. But the show still feels long, and Neil Flint Worden plays the magician pompously, flubbing the eloquent final speech about love, which is the play's reward.
Shakespeare at Stinson's Macbeth is not only awkward and overwrought, it's also a pain in the ass to get to. I was hoping for good performances from Louise Chegwidden (as Lady Macbeth) and Michael Storm (as Duncan and Macduff), but the whole show has been overdirected by Kevin Kelleher. He seems to think Macbeth is a violent play that needs to be played violently, with no subtle tones. Some performances (like Simon Burzynski's in both his roles, and Maceo Oliver's as the Doctor), are embarrassing. Others, like Storm's and Chegwidden's, have moments of real drama. Storm throws some nice fervent tantrums as Macduff, but his reaction to the news that "all my pretty ones" have been killed by the Scottish tyrant has none of Shakespeare's horrible silence. Chegwidden does a nice sleepwalking scene, and an even better scene as Hecate, screaming prophecies from behind a chain-link fence over stark thundery music. Chiron Alston's Macbeth is oddly bland, though, and nothing in Kelleher's murky concept holds together. One of the murderers wears a hockey mask, Lady Macbeth wears synthetic draperies, and the thanes wear dark suits and shades, like hired gangsters in Reservoir Dogs. For some reason there's also a huge clock on the rear wall, which no one ever refers to or mentions. A set from another play?
The Velocity of Gary (Not His Real Name)
Maybe this one-man show has done well at the New Conservatory because it stars Danny Pintauro (from Who's the Boss?), who gets naked, or maybe it has done well because it follows the picaresque adventures of a waifish street hustler who tugs the hearts of the New Conservatory's gay clientele. Hard to say. In any case it's not the script, which is boring. Gary (Not His Real Name) is a vain, spoiled, confused kid -- street-pompous as Lou Reed on a bad day -- who tells about his life in third person. The way he creates his persona by discussing himself would make a good concept in the hands of a better writer, but James Still can't avoid melodrama or cliché. There are jokes about Gary's naive dreaminess ("Maybe he could buy a co-op in Manhattan. Or a VCR."), which everyone laughs at, and odd lines passing for good writing ("Gary could sniff out vulnerability like a vacuum cleaner."), which nobody laughs at. Pintauro plays him with earnest feeling but no grit, and falls apart on the female characters. Some of Gary's adventures are interesting, yes -- he bounces between sugar daddies until one of them dies of AIDS -- but not for almost two intermissionless hours.