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L'lusion Pierre Corneille Directed by Giorgio Strehler Teatro Lirico (Milan) Temporale August Strindberg Directed by Giorgio Strehler Piccolo Teatro di Milano (Paris) Rosette Lamont As the lights dim, before the curtain rises, two gentlemen in period costumes, members of the solid French seventeenth-century bourgeoisie, slowly make their way towards the stage through the center aisle. They are Pridamant, father of the long-missing young Clindor, who ran away from home to make his own way in the world, and a devoted family friend, Dorante. The latter, gropingly, leads the way. He is taking the disconsolate father to the cavern of Alcandre, a famous "magician," who might not "move rocks, bring down the clouds, / and light two suns in the night," but who "can read men's secret thoughts, / predict the future and reveal the past." This local soothsayer (his grotto is located "somewhere in Touraine") will, if he so desires, "show" Pridamant his son's reflected form, and the young man's past and present life. A few steps from the proscenium a velvet-upholstered bench has been set up. Here, Pridamant will watch the proceedings together with the audience in the theatre, and, in turn, the audience will view the play-within-the-play which is about to begin. The curtain rises, revealing a deep grotto in the bowels of the earth. A 54 luminous round hole at the back of the stage suggests that the cavern's mouth opens upon a radiant day outside. This is the archetypal cave par excellence , the one described by Plato in Book VII of The Republic. It takes a while for the members of the audience to adjust their sight. Like Plato's cave dwellers we "blink through the gloom . . . as our eyes experience the shift from light to darkness and darkness to light." We will be shown phantom people, shadows and shadows of shadows. As they move through the camera obscura of Ezio Frigerio's mesmerizing set, they are also reflected in the black marble tiles of the floor and, when the cave walls dissolve, upon the shining surface of the backdrop. Strehler and Frigerio have crystallized upon the stage Corneille's concept of the "illusion" of life expressed by the magician Alcandre. L'llusion is a metaplay, a f66rie (Corneille calls it "une galanterie extravagante ") on the subject of the art of theatre. It contains in its closing scene one of the most eloquent eulogies of dramatic art ever written. Corneille 's apologia reflects the seventeenth-century controversy between the ecclesiastical and the secular points of view. In his last comedy, the young dramatist pleads in favor of an art form loved by "all fine spirits." As Robert Nelson points out in his Play Within a Play, the playwright who was about to become the creator in France of neo-classical tragedy (L'llusion is contemporary with Le Cid) wished to "dramatize his dramaturgy." Strehler chose Corneille's much neglected comedy to mark his assumption of the directorship of the Th6atre de I'Europe (in Paris at the Odeon Th6atre and in Milan at the Teatro Lirico), and to celebrate the tricentenary of Corneille 's death. As he stated in conversation with me: "This is a play about magic, and magicians, but, above all, it is a play about the magic of theatre. Alcandre is another Prospero. L'/llusion is a meditation upon the art of the stage." Unlike Jouvet, whom Strehler acknowledges as one of his masters and who revived L'llusion Comique in 1937, the Italian director did not choose to present the "play scene" of the final act as an obvious play-within-the-play acted with broad exaggeration upon an inner stage, erected within the box of the larger stage. Pridamant must at all times believe that he is being shown a faithful image of reality, and the audience is to share his "illusion." In his "Examen" of the play, written thirty years after L'lllusion's first performance , the dramatist says that he established echoes between the early scenes depicting Clindor's supposedly "real" life (his courtship of Isabelle and hot erotic pursuit of the lovely but impoverished Lyse, a possible mistress but...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 54-60
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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