We have officially entered a “post-truth” era, in which the line between truth and fiction blurs and conmen fool audiences with appealing tales and promises. Thus, Roxbury Latin’s 2016 Senior Play, Tony Kushner’s The Illusion, this past weekend seemed timely and apt. “Freely adapted” from Pierre Corneille’s 1636 meta-theatrical comedy L’illusion comique, The Illusion follows Pridamant, an elderly lawyer, as he searches for the son he banished from home fifteen years earlier. Over the course of the play, a powerful magician shows Pridamant three different visions from his son’s life, all filled with rivals, lovers, and intrigue, yet none truly tenable. The play grows increasingly complex, the yarns increasingly extravagant, until Pridamant finally comes to understand his son’s fate. The Illusion’s play-within-a-play structure, first popularized by The Spanish Tragedy and Hamlet, in Kushner’s hand becomes a meditation on the power of illusion in storytelling and perhaps a commentary on the dangers of blind belief.
Drama director Derek Nelson selected the play for its parallels to Don Quixote, the central text of Professor Stavans’ lectures this year as the Smith Scholar in Residence. (Last year, Roxbury Latin staged The Christmas Truce in conjunction with Professor Neiberg’s lectures on World War I.) Mr. Nelson also chose Kushner’s text specifically for its “monologues whose long sentences, broken into nearly poetic lines, make it challenging for actors to carry the vocal momentum to the end of the thought. Helping them find the key image or idea in some of the sentences taught me a lot about the language.”
Commenting on his experience in the play, Reis White II enjoyed “watching it all come together; the script itself was very complicated, and Mr. Nelson split up rehearsals so everyone didn’t have to come to each one. So, when tech week came around, seeing how each scene wove together with the others to create the greater story was extremely satisfying and fulfilling.” Brendan Gibbons III added that he appreciated the opportunity “to get to know and spend time with all the different boys from RL as well as the girls from outside of school.”
The production itself featured ten Roxbury Latin actors, including five seniors (Henry Lin-David, Erik March, Jim McCoy, Jacob Morris, and Coleman Smith), two juniors (Andrew and Reis White) and three sophomores (Matt Fumarola, Brendan Gibbons, and Johnny Ryan). These were accompanied by female cohorts from Winsor (Lydia Forti, Maddie Lattimore, and Katie Tsai), Dana Hall (Lilly Craven), and Dover-Sherborn (Ainsleigh Caldicott), who generously made the trek to West Roxbury each day.
Yet none of these actors’ efforts would have come to fruition without the dedication of the tech crew, made up of RL faculty and students alike, who helped design the set, sound, and lighting, while ensuring the play’s smooth operation come show time. Special thanks to local artist Anne Lilly for lending her spellbinding kinetic sculpture, “Disparate de tontos,” to the play, which will be part of a larger exhibit of her sculptures in the Great Hall in January. Ultimately, the play brought these students, faculty, artists, and guests together to enjoy the camaraderie and challenge of staging a show in a few short weeks. We all look forward to Roxbury Latin’s Junior Play, Arabian Nights, coming up this winter.