By David L. MUNNELL
We don’t usually think of Pierre Corneille when the topic turns to 17th-century French comedies.
Typically, we fall back on the hits of Moliere such as “Tartuffe” or “The Miser.” However, Corneille is considered to be one of the most influential French playwrights of his time.
“L’Ilusion Comique” is one of Corneille’s comedies and boy, is it a roller coaster. The piece being performed at the Rust Belt Theater, “The Illusion,” is actually a translation and adaptation by the director, Robert Dennick Joki.
The play begins with Elsa Pridamont, played by Brittiani Ketcham, seeking her estranged son Clindor (Dave Perkins). Else enlists a local sorceress, Alcandria, played by the statuesque Kim Voeks, who shows Elsa a vision of what has become of her son. The events then play out for everyone, and we see the life of Clindor as he attempts to woo and win his love, Isabelle, played with excellent timing by Lynn Sabeh.
Along the way, the lovers are helped by the manipulative and capricious Lyse (Bernadette Lim) as they try to deter the other suitors of Isabelle: the violent and abusive Adraste (David Cirelli) and the swashbuckling Matamore, played to perfection by Kage Coven. Also thrown into the mix are Isabelle’s mother, Gerona (Joellen Jacob), and Princess Rosine (Kelsie Moon).
Joki’s flair is incredibly apparent in this show: big hair, big costumes, and dark, Goth-like undertones.
For the most part, I found this to be a great choice. However, there were several points through the night where I had to remind myself that this is, in fact, a French comedy.
The cast’s natural approach to the script, while understandable given the small space of the Calvin Center, tends to become too heavy. Instead of feeling like a Spanish telenovela, it turns into a German Wagnerian Opera. There are points in the play where that would be appropriate, but it just happens too frequently. The production needs to find a better balance of “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” with the over-the-top melodrama.
In the end, though, I always find myself enjoying the productions at the Rust Belt. They offer something different and unusual, and it’s a nice change of pace from the typical fare found at the other theaters. Go see “The Illusion.” It’s a rare gem that audiences would be sore to miss.
“The Illusion” will be performed at the Rust Belt Theater, inside Calvin Center, 755 Mahoning Ave., at 8 tonight, and again next Saturday and May 19. For reservations, call 330-507-2358.