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THE ILLUSION at Road Less Traveled presents a magical, mysterious, phantasmagoria

THE BASICS:  THE ILLUSION, a play by Tony Kushner adapted from Corneille’s  L’Illusion Comique, directed by John Hurley, runs through  February 10, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 at Road Less Traveled Theater, their new location at 456 Main Street (629-3069). www.roadlesstraveledproductions.orgRuntime: a little over two hours with one intermission

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Back in the days of swords and lords, a middle-aged lawyer, Pridamant, is searching in vain for his estranged son, whom he banished 15 years before. In desperation the man of law consults the magician Alcandre, who lives in a cave with a deaf and dumb servant. When Pridamant asks to see his son, Alcandre conjures up three different visions. In each vision, the son goes by a different name as he is involved in three different love affairs, but wait! Each time it’s with the same two women – a lady and her maidservant – whose names also change, and the rivals are always the same, one a nobleman of steel and action and one a moonstruck, lovesick fool. Each of the three visions is a little darker and more menacing than the first. Obviously, the father is very concerned for his son. In the first vision, the son is poor but idealistic as he asks the maid to help him win the lady. In the second vision, he works for his rival, ultimately killing him but the maid helps him escape the penalty of murder. In the third vision, the lad is now rather dissolute. His father is overcome with grief, as his tears are collected by the magician for their potency. There’s more… but that would spoil it.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Starring Lisa Vitrano, Dave Hayes, Patrick Cameron, Cassie Cameron, Rolando Gomez, Sara Kow-Falcone, David Marciniak, and Ray Boucher, director John Hurley was able to assemble a first-rate cast. Assisting these experienced pros in their illusions is a magnificent set by Lynne Koscielniak that along with lighting by John Rickus and Sound Design by Katie Menke fully draw you in to a cabinet of wonders.

The most dramatic entrances and exits are through an illuminated ring at the back of the stage.

A little more about that set. Cast in a shimmery blue light, the stage now has extra wings along each side which allow characters to suddenly appear and disappear as if by magic, poof!, but the most dramatic entrances and exits are through an illuminated ring at the back of the stage, so carefully designed that characters do seem to melt into the blackness, in an effect more menacing, but equally as effective as the portal in the Sci-Fi series “Stargate.”

I really hate to say that the actors were “type-cast” because that takes away from the skill of the director, John Hurley, who created a balanced presentation where all the theatrical elements work together. And to say “type cast” also belies the actor’s hard work and talent, but I will say that Dave Hayes, as Pridamont, brings the intellectual-dubious-wait-a-minute-I-have-a question-here superiority which has served him so well in such stellar roles as the minister in last season’s THE CHRISTIANS. And Patrick Cameron, who was so marvelous in BASKERVILLE, reprises his energetic, often manic, side as the lover. Cassie Cameron as the love interest has that “very attractive but there’s something a little troubling here” thing down to a tee as seen most recently over at Irish Classical as Lorna in GOLDEN BOY and Aimee in THE NIGHT ALIVE. And Sara Kow-Falcone as the maid-servant also has that “I might look normal but I’m a little crazy,too” vibe recently seen in RLTP’s JOHN and before that PAINTING CHURCHES. And Ray Boucher, whatever his role, including the devious Thomasheen Seán Rua in ICTC’s SIVE, always swaggers, which is just the right touch for his role as the rival in THE ILLUSION.

But fans of some of the other actors will be pleased to see them “break out” a little. Lisa Vitrano can play anything, and has, but sometimes her roles are constrained, as in playing a minister’s wife or a rather regal Queen Elizabeth. But here, damned if she doesn’t just eat up her role of the magician/ringmaster Alcandre (often played by a man, but here all the better in the hands of Ms. Vitrano). When she’s on, she is ON!

Rolando Gomez is a big guy, and has recently been cast in serious “troubled father of the troubled young man” roles , but here he gets to strut his comic chops as the deaf and dumb servant of the magician. What a rubber face he has! And David Marciniak as the moonstruck, lovesick Matamore was so in character, so different from the businessmen he’s played recently or The Earl of Kent in SIDP’s KING LEAR that I swear I had to keep looking at my program to see who the actor was. I could not believe that this was good-old Dave Marciniak. It was one of the most amazing bits of acting I have ever seen.

If you are looking for something different, a play that breaks with the rules of time, place, and action, with a bit of darkness, but not too much, beautiful mysterious women and handsome men, a little swordplay and some magic, this is very good show for you.

Photos courtesy Gina Gandolfo

UP NEXT: Road Less Traveled’s production of ALMOST, MAINE by John Cariani consists of nine short, quirky plays that explore love and loss in a remote, mythical almost-town called Almost, Maine. It’s at Shea’s 710 Theatre for only four days, February 14 – 17.

Back at the new theater at 456 Main Street, it’s BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY by Pulitzer Prize winning Stephen Adly Guirgis (author of THE MOTHERFUCKER WITH THE HAT), March 8 – 31.

And, here’s a fun one-off: Road Less Traveled actors and friends will read the full screenplay of THE PRINCESS BRIDE, directed by Scott Behrend and Katie Mallinson, Saturday, April 6, at 7:30.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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