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5.0 out of 5 stars This back-and-forth business
Pierre Corneille's beguiling original play has been brilliantly adapted by Tony Kushner to produce an intriguing hybrid, a story that was probably old-fashioned in the seventeenth century but which still seems thoroughly modern in the twenty-first. The doubling of authorship (Kushner goes further than most adapters in his version of the Corneille) mirrors the multiplying...
Published on 11 Sep 2012 by Sphex

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3.0 out of 5 stars Corneille Knew What He Was Doing
Not to begrudge Tony Kushner the success of his adaptation of Pierre Corneille's extraordinary 1636 play "L'Illusion Comique," but personally I find the original more interesting at virtually every point. In particular, the central "gimmick" in Act Five is far richer in meaning in the original (won't say more, so as not to spoil the play for those who don't yet know it)...
Published on 21 Jan 2011 by Nicholas A. Deutsch


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This back-and-forth business, 11 Sep 2012
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This review is from: The Illusion (Tcg Translations) (Paperback)
Pierre Corneille's beguiling original play has been brilliantly adapted by Tony Kushner to produce an intriguing hybrid, a story that was probably old-fashioned in the seventeenth century but which still seems thoroughly modern in the twenty-first. The doubling of authorship (Kushner goes further than most adapters in his version of the Corneille) mirrors the multiplying of parts (five of the seven actors take on three characters each), a layering of roles that is closer to the reality of life itself than the title might suggest, since we are not the sole authors of our own identities. Such complexity is carried over into the dramatic action of the play, which revolves around a simple love story. Even in the genre of romance, love stories are never straightforward, and Corneille does not disappoint: there are the usual scenes of attraction and courtship, of wild romantic language, the overcoming of obstacles to the young couple's happiness, and so on and so forth. From the start, however, we know this is no ordinary story, and that it will likely have its own peculiar twists. We soon suspect that we're not heading for a happy ending, not because this is a tragedy but because these scenes of romance are interleaved with another story altogether, one about the telling of stories. What adds further depth is that not all the obstacles to love are external: there remain the internal drives and instincts rooted in our universal human nature that are less easy to overcome.

The master of ceremonies (or mistress, as in the tremendous 2012 production at the Southwark Playhouse) is Alcandre, a magician. Pridamant is the lawyer who's come along to a magic cave in the hope that the "lost arts of a pre-Christian variety" might conjure an image of his son, whom he hasn't seen since the boy ran away from home. Alcandre issues a dire warning: "Violate the boundary between their world and ours only at the greatest peril to yourself. Cross over, and you may not be able to find your way back." This sounds like the paranormal mumbo jumbo of the psychic, or the confused ramblings of those who believe there are two realities and a veil separating them. As the play unfolds, however, it becomes clear that Alcandre is no fraud, but a "chemist of emotions" and a kind of director who can lay on a great show for those who can pay, and who have the imagination to appreciate her art.

She admits that it wears on the nerves, this back-and-forth business, this crossing over from our world into that of make-believe. One interpretation is that this is the business of acting, of leaving yourself behind and taking on someone else's personality. On the sly, Corneille seems to be peering under the bonnet of theatre to see how it works. The Amanuensis is Alcandre's loyal stagehand, or perhaps slave, who complains of having to throw himself, again and again, "into other lives, full of pain and twisted passion." The first two such lives we see belong to the dashing Calisto and the innocent Melibea. He plays the Romeo to her Juliet, only it's not just the two of them against the whole world - there is a battle within their own relationship (as there always is, however pure the love seems - see The War of the Sexes: How Conflict and Cooperation Have Shaped Men and Women from Prehistory to the Present by Paul Seabright). With his talk of hawks, his eagerness to fight his male rivals, he is a predator in love, and prepared to seduce his female prey with whatever guile he has to hand. Melibea is his first morsel.

Neither Corneille nor Kushner is cynical about love, despite what some of their characters get up to. One of Alcandre's final speeches contains the following beautiful image: "Love is a sea of desire stretched between shores - only the shores are real, but how much more compelling is the sea." Being compelled by what is not real is a risky business (witness humanity's disastrous indulgence of various ideologies), and many people share Pridamant's distaste for the world of make-believe. We're in safe hands with Corneille and Kushner, however, and with Alcandre. The conclusion to the play is literally disenchanting, and is all the more inspiring for it, since we see how the deeper purpose of theatre can be not just to entertain but to facilitate transcendence of the non-flaky kind. As Daniel Gilbert puts it in the context of scientific psychology (Stumbling on Happiness (P.S.)), the imagination "is a powerful tool that allows us to conjure images from 'airy nothing'." It's what Alcandre's been doing throughout the play, and we in the audience have been her willing collaborators.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Corneille Knew What He Was Doing, 21 Jan 2011
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Nicholas A. Deutsch (Tarrytown, NY USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Illusion (Tcg Translations) (Paperback)
Not to begrudge Tony Kushner the success of his adaptation of Pierre Corneille's extraordinary 1636 play "L'Illusion Comique," but personally I find the original more interesting at virtually every point. In particular, the central "gimmick" in Act Five is far richer in meaning in the original (won't say more, so as not to spoil the play for those who don't yet know it). On the plus side, the popularity of Kushner's version has certainly promoted appreciation of the play in English-speaking countries, and for that we should be grateful. Unfortunately, this appears to have led to the neglect of poet Richard Wilbur's superb 2006 translation, "The Theatre of Illusion," another tour de force in rhymed couplets in the line of his classic versions of Molière (not to mention his lyrics for Leonard Bernstein's "Candide"). If you want a truly brilliant English-language version, and one which moreover is thought-by-thought faithful to Corneille, be sure to check out Wilbur.
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5.0 out of 5 stars a haunting wonderful play, 19 May 2001
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This review is from: The Illusion (Tcg Translations) (Paperback)
A masterful reworking of an old play. A play that dwells on the endless family traumas which seem without resolution. A play which celebrates the ability of theatre to create that special space where truth and reality blur
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The Illusion (Tcg Translations)
The Illusion (Tcg Translations) by Tony Kushner (Paperback - Feb 1994)
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