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It's no 'Illusion' that this play is elegant, magical

THE ILLUSION, Westminster Players, Jewett Center, 1250 E. 1700 South, through March 29 (832-2135). Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (one intermission).

Into a cave of gloom and smoke, a father comes looking for a miracle. Fifteen years ago, he cast his son away, and now he seeks the help of the wizard Alcandre to see what has become of the lad.

The father doesn't want the news to be bad, though. His heart couldn't stand it. So the play begins in irony. Here is a man who banished his son but now will pay a princely sum to hear news of the boy — but he wants to hear good news only.

The Westminster Players have a truly magical set (designed by Nina Vought) on which to perform Tony Kushner's "The Illusion." The cave is a two-story affair, full of crevaces and twisted shapes that move and reveal themselves to be, not rocks, but spirits.

In staging alone, this production — directed by Michael Vought — is a cut above a student production. Some acting is also better than collegiate.

The plot itself is basically serious. Thanks to the wizard's skill, the father is able to watch his son's life unfold before him. It is a scary sight. The son is so besotted by love that he puts his life in peril several times.

There are also a lot of laughs in this production, and no one is funnier than Michael Burns in the role of Matamore, the silliest of lovers. Burns struts and mugs, pretends to be brave, then puts on "his lover's face," a moony face. He's pure fun.

Teresa Knight plays the princess, the woman whom the son so desperately seeks — until he catches her, of course. She does a nice job with her role, moving easily from giddy to tormented.

Sarah Kaelin is the serving girl, also quite competent and humorous. Brian Pilling is the son, required to mature from callow to craven. He's most comfortable in the middle of those two extremes, as the princess' bold lover.

Carl Evans plays his rival. Brandon Rufener plays his father. Peter Markowski, in shimmering purple robes, is the wizard. Spencer West is a lovely mime in the role of the Amanuensis, the wizard's servant.

The wizard has cut out his servant's tongue and stabbed his ears to make him deaf. Or has he?

West is also the princess' father in one brief scene and gets to talk about another kind of love. When she falls in love with the wrong man, her father casts her out of his life, saying, "I love you with a heart of ice . . . a clear, clean, white, bone-like love."

Kushner rewrote a centuries-old play to make it funny in a modern way, while at the same time keeping some of the timeless tragedy. We are charmed at first, when the son rushes headlong into love. But all too soon, we see his destructive side.

The Westminster production is fanciful and elegantly staged. It requires the audience to think about the many ways in which love is an illusion.

Lovers appear in a flame of light. But soon they are gone and the stage is dark, and someone is calling, and we can't see who it is.

Sensitivity rating: mild profanity, some double-entendres.