the illusion/forum theatre 2012
The Washington Post
By Nelson Pressley, Published: May 31
"Rapture comes naturally to playwright Tony Kushner, and in “The Illusion,” he plants a big swoony kiss on the lips of the theater. At Forum Theatre, director Mitchell Hebert kisses right back: He envisions the show as a one-ring circus, a dark and tawdry little place that opens up neatly into Kushner’s world of enchantments.
A lot of the magic of “The Illusion” actually dates back to French dramatist Pierre Corneille, whose 1636 drama inspired Kushner’s adaptation. The plot follows a man who asks a magician to conjure up his estranged son, and Kushner — writing at about the same time he was creating “Angels in America” — sticks fairly close to Corneille.
Hebert sticks close to Kushner, too, even if the show (at Round House’s Silver Spring theater) opens with a bit of card trick hocus-pocus and with Pridamant — the questing father — navigating onto the darkened stage by the light of his mobile phone. As the story chronicles the son’s loves and quarrels, Hebert’s impressive cast acts with an exactitude and flamboyance that rises to Kushner’s whip-smart style.
In fact, the cast is practically musical, with different clusters of the ensemble working in distinctive keys. Brian Hemmingsen and Nanna Ingvarsson sound tragic notes: Hemmingsen has a brooding quality as the gruff Pridamant, watching scenes of his son’s life summoned by Alcandre, the magician played with weary wonder by the barefoot, sad-eyed, commanding Ingvarsson. You can sense both actors peering through layers of time as they observe what happens within the circus ring or what pops out from behind the heavy red curtain of Daniel Pinha’s scenic design.
Mark Halpern is brighter as the young son, and so is Brynn Tucker as the eternal object of his affection. Their characters’ names change whenever the scenes move forward in time, an important detail that Pridamant grouses about as he views from the sidelines. Gwen Grastorf brings comic simplicity to the role of the maid (who is attracted to the son, naturally), and Joe Brack is witty as various types of rivals. All four performers have an easy way with Kushner’s often elevated language, even when their characters’ speeches begin to run on.
The absurd is ushered in by Scott McCormick’s florid turn as Matamore, a grotesque egotist who is another of the son’s rivals. McCormick brings a whiff of the Cowardly Lion to the part, and also helps pivot the play toward philosophy with the buffoonish Matamore’s musings on the moon.
That brings “The Illusion” back to theatrics, a theme that Hebert handles with a rewardingly cold-blooded professionalism. Ariel J. Benjamin’s lights and Matthew Nielson’s sound design are as atmospheric and precise as you could hope for in a show orchestrated by a magician, and you can say the same for the actors, who are not only likable but also notably controlled. It’s a snappy act, all calibrated to convince you of Corneille’s and Kushner’s core belief that the stage’s illusions matter.
The Illusion By Tony Kushner, freely adapted from “L’Illusion Comique” by Pierre Corneille. Directed by Mitchell Hebert. Costumes, Kristy Leigh Hall. With Aaron Bliden. About 2 hours 20 minutes. Through June 16 at Round House Theatre Silver Spring, 8641 Colesville Rd. Call 240-644-1100 or visit
"Loosely adapted from Pierre Corneille’s L’Illusion Comique and first staged in 1988, The Illusion is testament to Kushner’s brilliance as a writer; but this production reveals the hefty skills of another individual: director Mitchell Hébert. Well known as an actor who recently won a Helen Hayes Award for his performance in Theater J’s After the Fall, Hébert has crafted a riveting show, exploring love, loss, and the flimsy nature of appearances. He’s also done it with little to work with but a cast of eight compelling actors, which makes the play’s resonance all the more impressive".
"Hébert’s production, complete with chilling, hooded shapes, magic tricks, and moments of guttural screaming, is no cakewalk either, taking the audience to some dark corners of the human psyche. But the dreamlike optimism that suffuses the play, and the all-around strength of the cast and creative team, makes it a vision that’s a real joy to behold".
Theatre Review: ‘The Illusion’ at Forum Theatre
By Robert Michael Oliver - June 1, 2012
"Director Mitchell Hébert has handled the production’s complex array of acting styles with great dexterity, allowing the actors to develop a wonderful array of characters while keeping them all authentically focused. Whether they are acting in the style of Commedia del’Arte or taking on turn-of-the century Realism, these performers rivet the audience’s attention, and in Forum’s intimate confines, that engagement is crucial. Much like a traveling medieval troupe of performers, they are on a relatively bare stage only a few feet from their audience. As we watch, we are given the opportunity to experience the actors and their character(s) simultaneously, oddly aware of both as they enact their stories".
May 28, 2012 Anne Tsang
"Forum Theater’s production of Tony Kushner’s The Illusion, directed by Mitchell Hébert, entrances the audience right from the start. As the magician Alacandre says,“When you start these things, you never know how it’s going to end.” Little did I know how right she was"!
Washington City Paper
Arts & Entertainment : Theater Review By Bob Mondello • June 1, 2012
Director Mitchell Hébert has given the young lovers some clever business—wait’ll you see the staging fillip with which he sets up a line beginning “on the other hand”
In 'Rabbit Hole,' Grief Runs Deep
By Nelson Pressley
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
When disaster strikes, victims howl with pain. What happens, though, when the cries fade away but the anguish lingers?
That's where David Lindsay-Abaire situates his 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, "Rabbit Hole," being performed with heartbreaking delicacy at the Olney Theatre Center. A young boy has died, and Lindsay-Abaire picks up the story months later, with the child's parents still trying to cope.
It takes a while to register that these middle-class suburbanites are in the throes of grief. The show at Olney opens with light from a refrigerator as someone looks for food; throughout the performance, characters occupy themselves with everyday tasks: folding laundry, fiddling with videotape, serving birthday cake and wine.
The tidy kitchen of Marie-Noelle Daigneault's meticulously realistic set on Olney's wide main stage is a particular refuge, with any number of brief but diverting tasks for Becca, the boy's mother, to throw herself into. Becca hardly seems a mess; the first scene, in fact, hinges on a funny rant from Becca's slightly reckless sister Izzy, who is explaining why she punched another woman in a bar.
Becca is clearly the more mature sibling, yet as Lindsay-Abaire reveals the situation by slow degrees, you realize that this composure is the facade of a wrecked woman barely holding on. As Becca, Deborah Hazlett is tense in quiet, subtle ways: Note her rigid posture on the couch, her stiff shoulders and slightly tart retorts, those measured retreats to the safe ground of the kitchen. In the writing and particularly in Hazlett's pivotal performance, this is grief writ small and true.
Of course, things are no easier for Howie, Becca's husband, who's trying to cope in his own way. The idiosyncrasy of mourning is richly rendered in scenes that unfold at an unhurried and naturalistic pace, and Paul Morella's easygoing yet combustible turn as Howie keeps the show on a sympathetic yet potentially messy plain. Should Howie and Becca sell the house? Have another child? Agree to speak with the high school kid who drove the car in which their boy died? Rifts are everywhere, and even with the best of intentions, these characters find it hard to speak without finding a difference that stings.
"Rabbit Hole" is more directly honest than the antic material with which Lindsay-Abaire first made his mark ("Fuddy Meers," "Kimberly Akimbo"), and director Mitchell Hebert rigorously keeps false notes at bay. Only late, and only briefly, does a speech feel like a speech, something written rather than felt (the few well-judged comic exchanges excepted).
That's the writing, not the acting, which here seems to regard lyricism and sentiment as disreputable vices. Megan Anderson keeps the loopiness in check as Izzy; Kate Kiley, as Izzy and Becca's mother, soft-pedals the character's button-pushing tendencies; and Aaron Bliden makes a deceptively simple appearance as the young driver still trying to find his own way clear of the accident.
"Deceptively simple" is the operating phrase for the whole show, for "Rabbit Hole" might sound like TV movie melodrama -- and it might yet become that in the film version, which is planned with Nicole Kidman in the starring role. Onstage, though, it's coolly governed and consistently moving, evoking scattered sniffles from the audience Saturday night without ever acting like a three-hankie tear-jerker.
Rabbit Hole, by David Lindsay-Abaire. Directed by Mitchell Hebert. Costumes, Kathleen Geldard; lights, Charlie Morrison; sound design, Jarett C. Pisani. About two hours. Through Aug. 31 at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd., Olney. Call 301-924-3400 or visit www.olneytheatre.org.
(Nominated for two Helen Hayes Awards: Outstanding Lighting Design, Resident Production and The Canadian Embassy Award for Outstanding Ensemble, Resident Play)
by Charles Shubow/Broadway World.com
“Hebert tackles a difficult subject but does a masterful job with a terrific cast”.
Broad Street Review,/Jim Rutter
“Director Mitchell Hébert achieves a balance of emotion and nuance from his cast, seamlessly integrating moments of revelatory introspection while making visible all of Lindsay-Abaire’s probing psychological insights about loss, grief and the role of humor in the slow evaporation of guilt”.
Jayne Blanchard | Friday, August 15, 2008 (four stars)
“Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire expertly navigates this terrain in the exquisitely painful "Rabbit Hole," the 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama currently receiving a must-see area premiere at the Olney Theatre Center under the impeccable direction of Mitchell Hebert”.
the illusion at umd/2009
It seemed simple enough: Pay a skilled magician exorbitant amounts of money to show visions of your son, whom you banished 15 years ago but now seek out in your old age. Sure it's straightforward - but it's never fun unless you've got those layers of complexity.
And boy, are those layers fun.
Before winning the Pulitzer Prize for Angels in America, Tony Kushner freely adapted L'Illusion Comique from legendary French playwright Pierre Corneille. The Illusion is shorter than its predecessor - only two acts from five - and takes many liberties with the storyline.
But Kushner kept the core of the play the same. Like its inspiration, The Illusion remains a play within a play about the love of an old man searching for his son.
The Department of Theatre takes on this well-crafted play in its own brilliantly created production, seizing every moment of comedic timing and dramatic climaxes that Kushner provides in his script.
Directed by Mitchell Hébert, The Illusion sends all the right chills up your spine and provides opportune moments to laugh while adding just the perfect amount of magic and fantasy.
Hébert's attention to detail adds clever moments in the play, making the production uniquely his and all the more memorable. Touches of modernity, including a GPS and Chinese takeout, are wonderful surprises and proof that theater can never get too old.
The play, though in modern English, is almost Shakespearean in its approach but skillfully executed by the cast. The power in The Illusion is its little nuances - the smart humor intertwined with quick dialogue that keeps the audience on their toes.
Kushner pushes the conceptual boundaries of the play within a play. And intuitive to its complex nature, The Illusion requires a talented cast ready to create a believable world of illusions and stories.
Michael Saltzman as the aging Pridamont holds his own against Adriene Brathwaite as the cunning and slick Alcandre, the magician from whom the father seeks help. Aaron Bliden, as Alcandre's deaf and mute servant, rightfully deserves much of the praise, however, needing few words to deftly portray his character.
But beyond the father and magician, it is the story of the banished son and his life after losing his father that dominates much of the story. And it is a rather tumultuous life he leads, full of love triangles, epic fight scenes and adultery.
Though we enjoy the sparring between Pridamont's son (Mark David Halpern) and his rival (Matt Sparacino), it is undoubtedly Zachary Fernebok as the lovesick Spaniard who truly owns the stage in this production. Though poor Matamore fails miserably to get the girl, he manages to steal our hearts - and many of our laughs - anyway.
The strong cast chemistry is the key and the production would never have been as successful as it was without it. From the meddling maid (Nevie Brooks) to the neurotic love interest (Liz Brown), each role is fully developed and fully convincing. We loathe, love and laugh at just the right times.
Everything, it seems, is working for Hébert's production. Well-chosen music and lighting create chilling effects of the mystery inherent in magic. The costumes, designed by Kristy Leigh Hall, are beautifully crafted, rich in texture and color that keep the eyes easily entertained.
And that's the key word with this production: easy. Despite the play's complexities, Hébert's cast and production team just made everything look so effortless and damn near flawless.
Hébert and company have managed to create a deeply moving story beyond the surface and one that, despite its fantastical premises, we believe if only for just those two hours. As we switch endlessly between the present and the past, we are guided through every step, taking us along not just a journey of a man and his son, but a story about love, reality and the meaning of, well, just about everything.
The Illusion runs through May 2 at the Kogod Theatre in CSPAC. Show times are tomorrow through Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $7 for students and $25 for the general public.
source 10 minute plays - groups a &b
By Nelson Pressley
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Better are the plays that say "Surprise!" David L. Williams's "The Craving" puts a twisted spin on a couple's romantic gamesmanship, as the wife barters for a spicy new activity that puts the husband in a dicey position. John Tweel and Salma Quarnain perform this with snappy comic timing, nailing Williams's smart gags about intimate miscommunications.
June 28, 2009 Reviewed by Steve McKnight/DC Theatre Scene
How much play can you fit into ten minutes? More than you think. Source Festival 2009 opens with three groups of shorts, before expanding to one act and full length plays.
by David L. Williams and directed by Mitchell Hébert
The Craving, one of two standouts from Group A, features a couple looking to spice up their love live. The clever and quick dialogue between Melanie (an alluring Salma Qarnain) and Judd (John Tweel) leads to a misunderstanding over what Melanie proposes. Let’s just say her erotic “craving” involves a major societal taboo that results in nervous laughter from the audience. This edgy and funny work is well-crafted right down to the final ending button. I hope to see more of this playwright’s work in the DC area.