The Illusion

Tony Kushner, freely adapted from Pierre Corneille's L'ILLUSION COMIQUE
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A lawyer, facing mortality, desperate to find the son he drove away years before, travels in the dead of night to a mysterious cave. There he engages the services of a wizard, who conjures up visions of the romantic, adventurous, perilous life the lawyer’s son has been living since his father expelled him from home. THE ILLUSION, freely adapted from Pierre Corneille’s L’ILLUSION COMIQUE, is Kushner’s most joyfully theatrical play, a wildly entertaining tale of passion and regret, of love, disillusionment and magic.

Production Info

Cast: 8 total (2 female, 6 male)
Full Length Drama (about 90 minutes)
Single Set
Period Costumes
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Press Quotes

“In an eminently playable, witty adaptation by Tony Kushner, THE ILLUSION comes across as downright entertaining, not an adjective anyone who reads Corneille in college is likely to expect. Unlike his better known plays, which have heroic subjects, THE ILLUSION is concerned with domestic matters, the alienation of parents from children, marital infidelity. While it is serious about these subjects, it puts them in an unusual context: A father has consulted a magician about his estranged son, and the magician shows him scenes from his son’s life … The comedy is elegant, full of depth …” —Howard Kissel, Daily News

“What are the real powers of sorcery? To alter? To define? To transport? Tony Kushner and Pierre Corneille before him go for all three, which is only part of the magic in Kushner’s fanciful adaptation of Corneille’s L’ILLUSION COMIQUE. Freely adapted it is, in the best sense. For Corneille, whose later, loftier verse plays earned him the stodgy title of Father of French Tragedy, THE ILLUSION was a mildly satirical precursor to all that, a glitch, written when he was only twenty-nine. Yet even then, it was burdened by a ponderous 17-century neo-classical style that kept the word comique out of 20-century range. Kushner’s achievement is digging under all the circumlocution to salvage an ageless and universal tale, stripping the nugget of its ornamentation and serving it up to us lingually lucid and lean. There is some colloquial indulgence in the rewritten language, but it’s mostly judicious. We’re in on the joke, which never goes too far. Simply put, this the tale of a rigid father, Pridament, who, stricken with remorse for having provoked his son to flee the family home, searches out the magician Aleandre in the hope that he will help him find out what happened to the wayward boy. Aleandre does, and the ironic twist of the piece is that after several false starts, passionate re-enactments, comic delusions and confusions, the truth is revealed and Papa finds he doesn’t like it. The light-hearted ending is a cynical but honest lesson in selective affection. All the fun, however, is in getting there. THE ILLUSION takes us into territory on which theater thrives: fantasy, witchcraft, transcended place and time …” —Sylvie Drake, Los Angeles Times

“What a fascinating, totally theatrical excursion we’re in for in this 17th-century fairytale-fable first spun by French classical dramatist Pierre Corneille. In 1639, L’ILLUSION COMIQUE was a comedy they didn’t know what to make of; 20th-century playwright Tony Kushner knows what to make of it. Triumphantly exhumed and enlivened three and a half centuries later in Kushner’s fresh, free adaptation; it proves indeed to be … ‘a prematurely modern play.’ Both modern and ancient, timeless and timely, flippant and profound … It is a thorough delight … L’ILLUSION COMIQUE was a masterpiece waiting for its time to happen. Tony Kushner made it happen and made it better. It is essence of theater, essence of archetypal magic. Carl Jung would have loved it.” —Polly Warfield, Drama-Logue

About the Author


  • Pierre Corneille

    Pierre Corneille studied law and then entered the Rouen parliament in 1629. He would serve as the king's counselor in the local office of the department of waterways and forests for twenty-one years, and, remarkably, he still found the time to write twenty plays during this period. After his retirement from the legal profession, he would write twelve more. Although Corneille is considered by most critics to be the father of French tragedy, six of his first eight plays were comedies. His first play, MÉLITE, was presented by a strolling troupe that happened through Rouen in 1629. He followed this initial offering with a series of comedies and tragicomedies, including CLITANDRE (1631), LA VEUVE or THE WIDOW (1632), LA GALERIE DU PALAIS or THE PALACE CORRIDOR (1633), LA SUIVANTE or THE MAIDSERVANT (1634), LA PLACE ROYAL (1634), and L'ILLUSION COMIQUE (1636). The playwright soon began to experiment with the tragic form and the result was the well-received: MÉDÉE (1635). Then, in 1637, Corneille stunned the French theatre with his first masterpiece: LE CID (1637), based on the life of an eleventh century Spanish hero. He quickly produced a string of tragedies that secured him a place in theatre history. The first of these masterworks, HORACE (1640), dramatizes the conflict of families divided by duty during a war between the ancient Romans and their Alban neighbors. Corneille followed this success with CINNA (1641), which tells the story of a conspiracy against the first Roman emperor, Augustus Caesar, who outwits his potential murderers by granting them a political pardon rather than attempting to have them executed as they expect, thus proving that he has strength enough to be merciful. And finally, POLYEUCTE (1643), considered by some critics to be Corneille's greatest work, tells the story of a born-again Christian who finds that his wife is in love with another man. In 1643, Corneille also achieved a remarkable success with a comedy of intrigue, LE MENTEUR or THE LIAR. In 1647, Corneille moved with his family to Paris and was admitted to the Académie Francaise.

  • Tony Kushner

    Born in New York City in 1956, and raised in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Tony Kushner is best known for his two-part epic, ANGELS IN AMERICA: A GAY FANTASIA ON NATIONAL THEMES. His other plays include A BRIGHT ROOM CALLED DAY, SLAVS!, HYDROTAPHIA, HOMEBODY/KABUL, and CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, the musical for which he wrote book and lyrics, with music by composer Jeanine Tesori. Kushner has translated and adapted Pierre Corneille's THE ILLUSION, S.Y. Ansky's THE DYBBUK, Bertolt Brecht's THE GOOD PERSON OF SEZUAN and MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN, and the English-language libretto for the children's opera BRUNDIBÁR by Hans Krasa. He wrote the screenplays for Mike Nichols' film of Angels in America and Steven Spielberg's Munich. In 2012 he wrote the screenplay for Spielberg's movie Lincoln. His screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award, and won the New York Film Critics Circle Award, Boston Society of Film Critics Award, Chicago Film Critics Award, and several others. His books include But the Giraffe: A Curtain Raising and Brundibar: The Libretto, with illustrations by Maurice Sendak; The Art of Maurice Sendak: 1980 to the Present; and Wrestling with Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict, co-edited with Alisa Solomon. His recent work includes a collection of one-act plays entitled TINY KUSHNER, and THE INTELLIGENT HOMOSEXUAL'S GUIDE TO CAPITALISM AND SOCIALISM WITH A KEY TO THE SCRIPTURES. In addition, a revival of ANGELS IN AMERICA ran Off-Broadway at the Signature Theater and won the Lucille Lortel Award in 2011 for Outstanding Revival. Kushner is the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, an Emmy Award, two Tony Awards, three Obie Awards, an Arts Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a PEN/Laura Pels Award, a Spirit of Justice Award from the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, a Cultural Achievement Award from The National Foundation for Jewish Culture, a Chicago Tribune Literary Prize for lifetime achievement, and the 2012 National Medal of Arts, among many others. CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, produced at the National Theatre of Great Britain, received the EVENING STANDARD Award, the London Drama Critics' Circle Award and the Olivier Award for Best Musical. In September 2008, Tony Kushner became the first recipient of the Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award, the largest theater award in the US. He is the subject of a documentary film, Wrestling with Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner, made by the Oscar-winning filmmaker Freida Lee Mock. He lives in Manhattan with his husband, Mark Harris.

About the Book

Book Information

Publisher BPPI
Publication Date 12/31/2003
Pages 72
ISBN 9780881452310

Special Notes

Special Notes

Licensees are required to include the original stage producers credits in the following form on the title page in all programs distributed in connection with performances of the Play and in all advertising in which the full cast appears in size of type not less than ten percent (10%) of the size of the title of the Play:

Commissioned and originally produced by New York Theatre Workshop
Further developed and produced by Hartford Stage Company
Mark Lamos, Artistic Director

The following must appear within all programs distributed in connection with performances of the Play:
The Illusion is produced
by special arrangement with Broadway Play Publishing Inc, NYC

Production Notes

Production Notes

The author will allow a woman to be cast in the role of Alcandre.


Upcoming and Recent Productions


6/12/2021 – 6/13/2021
Upstart Creatures
New York, NY

1/18/2019 – 2/10/2019
Road Less Traveled Productions
Buffalo, NY

2/22/2017 – 3/19/2017
North Coast Repertory Theatre
Solana Beach, CA

9/25/2016 – 9/25/2016
South Pasadena, CA

7/29/2016 – 8/19/2016
Theater At Monmouth
Monmouth, NJ

7/23/2016 – 8/6/2016
New Orleans Shakespeare Festival At Tulane
New Orleans, LA


11/15/2024 – 11/18/2024
Oklahoma City University
Oklahoma City, OK

9/12/2024 – 9/15/2024
Auckland, AKL, New Zealand

5/9/2024 – 5/19/2024
Irvine Valley College
Irvine, CA

2/9/2024 – 2/15/2024
The Lir, National Academy Of Dramatic Art
Dublin 2, IRL, Ireland

12/15/2023 – 12/16/2023
Saint Bernard's Academy
Eureka, CA

4/20/2023 – 5/7/2023
Sweet Tea Shakespeare
Fayetteville, NC

2/17/2023 – 2/26/2023
Manhattan Arts Center
Manhattan, KS

11/16/2022 – 11/20/2022
Berry College
Mt Berry, GA

11/7/2022 – 11/12/2022
Eastern University
St. Davids, PA

5/6/2022 – 5/15/2022
Mesa College Theatre Company
San Diego, CA

2/24/2022 – 2/28/2022
Olean Community Theatre
Olean, NY

2/18/2022 – 2/26/2022
Wheaton College
Wheaton, IL

11/23/2021 – 11/25/2021
University College School
London, LDN, United Kingdom

11/12/2021 – 11/21/2021
Florida Atlantic University
Boca Raton, FL

11/5/2021 – 11/13/2021
Palo Alto High School
Palo Alto, CA

6/25/2021 – 6/27/2021
Montclair State University, Dept Of Theatre & Dance
Montclair, NJ

5/20/2021 – 5/23/2021
Prattville High School
Prattville, AL

2/20/2020 – 3/7/2020
The Prospect Playhouse, Cayman Drama Society
Prospect, GC, Cayman Islands

11/17/2019 – 11/18/2019
The Pollock Center
Camp Hill, PA

11/14/2019 – 11/17/2019
Springfield College Theater
Springfield, MA

11/7/2019 – 11/16/2019
Belhaven University
Jackson, MS

6/1/2019 – 6/1/2019
Franklin School For The Performing Arts
Franklin, MA

5/10/2019 – 5/11/2019
Saint Anselm's Abbey School
Washington, DC

12/6/2018 – 12/9/2018
Aquinas College
Grand Rapids, MI

11/22/2018 – 11/24/2018
Manchester Metropolitan University
Manchester, United Kingdom

6/15/2018 – 6/23/2018
Waterworks Players
Farmville, VA

3/30/2018 – 4/7/2018
School Of Theatre & Dance, Illinois State University
Normal, IL

2/22/2018 – 2/25/2018
South Texas College
McAllen, TX

11/17/2017 – 11/19/2017
Loras College
Dubuque, IA

11/3/2017 – 11/18/2017
Ohlone College
Fremont, CA

11/2/2017 – 11/4/2017
Paul Mellon Arts Center
Wallingford, CT

11/2/2017 – 11/12/2017
University Of Southern Mississippi, Theatre Dept.
Hattiesburg, MS

8/19/2017 – 8/19/2017
Broadway Center For The Performing Arts
Tacoma, WA

4/27/2017 – 5/7/2017
Mid-Pacific Institute
Honolulu, HI

4/5/2017 – 4/9/2017
University Of Nebraska Kearney
Kearney, NE

3/31/2017 – 3/31/2017
Mill River Uhs
North Clarendon, VT

3/9/2017 – 3/11/2017
Mill River Uhs
North Clarendon, VT

2/24/2017 – 3/4/2017
Theatre And Dance Dept.
Fredonia, NY

2/24/2017 – 3/5/2017
Case Western Reserve University Theater Dept
Cleveland, OH

11/18/2016 – 11/19/2016
The Roxbury Latin School
West Roxbury, MA

11/10/2016 – 11/13/2016
Pa Leadership Charter School
West Chester, PA

11/3/2016 – 11/12/2016
Lakeshore High School
Mandeville, LA