Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Illusion and Signature's Kushner season

The Illusion is a Tony Kushner adaptation of a play by Pierre Corneille, a seventeenth-century French playwright I know nothing about and now feel no need to investigate. The actors were excellent but I just didn't care about the play. It was certainly the most lighthearted of the shows I saw that weekend, but it's not my kind of farce, and the conclusion was fairly disheartening.

On the other hand, the look that lighting designer Kevin Adams and set designer Christine Jones, frequent collaborators, created is interesting and quite beautiful. I wanted to walk around and touch the various votives and other light-giving objects near the stage, and I wanted to take the overhead light sculpture home with me. Jones's off-stage set design here is reminiscent of Spring Awakening's chock-a-block, stuff-stuck-on-a-brick-wall design (which I loved), but Adams's is unlike any of his other work I've seen. Their efforts were by far my favorite aspect of this production.

I loooooooooove Kevin Adams's lighting design for the show. Unlike with Spring Awakening, Passing Strange, and Next to Normal, it is understated and beautiful (more Mirror Blue Night, less Feeling Electric). No neon lights in sight! I think the lighting designs of those three earlier shows were certainly appropriate to their material, but I was just bored by the concept by the time Passing Strange rolled around, and I don't have any idea how Adams could possibly one-up that wall of light. (To be fair, I also saw several off-Broadway shows at the Vineyard and at Second Stage that Adams lit, plus The 39 Steps on Broadway, and don't remember being overwhelmed by them at all. Hair was in the middle, for me--fine, but I definitely suspected it was him.)

I really don't have much to say about this show other than that. I love Lois Smith (from the movie Twister and the TV show True Blood among more serious fare), and she was charming here. Merritt Wever, whom I generally know only from Aaron Sorkin's short-lived TV show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, was funny with the conniving and strangely anachronistic role she was given. Henry Stram, however, was so good in what was pretty much the only role in the show that I really liked. He's good at being weird and creepy. (I liked about half the characters he did as the Adult Men in the first national tour of Spring Awakening, and he was pretty good as a drunken lech in the Huntington Theatre's entirely unnecessary production of William Inge's Bus Stop last season.)

At least I finished out The Signature Theatre's Kushner-centric season. I loved iHomo (which I told Kushner when I ran into him at Starbucks one day), really liked Angels in America Part I, liked Angels Part II even though I didn't understand when it turned so weird, and have almost entirely forgotten The Illusion even though it's the one I saw most recently. Alas, I just wish iHomo were still running.

Next season Signature is focusing on Athol Fugard, about whom I know nothing. And they'll be in a new building designed by Frank Gehry, whose work I detest. For $20 per show, I was up for trying all the Signature shows this season, but I think that subsidy is finished now.


Although I'm done with my Kushner season, my unintentional commitment to director Michael Mayer continues. I've already seen Spring Awakening and American Idiot on Broadway and off-Broadway Sherie Renee Scott's Everyday Rapture (fun enough, I guess), Theresa Rebeck's Our House (bad--and Firefly/Serenity/V star Morena Baccarin was so, so bad in it), and The Illusion (meh). And later this month I'll be seeing a concert presentation at the Vineyard Theatre of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, which is in preparation for a Broadway run this fall starring Harry Connick Jr. Mayer has reinvisioned the tale and done some gender swapping with the roles. I'm not familiar with the original, so that's fine with me. Shows should either be timeless or timely, or else why produce them? (Marc Kudish, whom I saw in the 9 to 5 musical, is filling in for Connick for this concert staging, which is more than fine with me. And I'm excited that American Idiot's Alysha Umphress will be in it, too.) I'm cautiously optimistic.

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