By Benito di Fonzo
God from The Matrix and Phil Scott update a 17th-century French tragicomedy.
In what seems a kung-fu twist, Damien Millar explains how proud he is to be directing Helmut Bakaitis, the man who taught him directing at NIDA.
"He's got this incredible presence and voice," Millar says. "He played God [The Architect] in The Matrix for a reason."
Because God wasn't available?
"I guess so, and Laurence Olivier's dead." Charlton Heston is still alive.
"Yes, you're right."
Millar is directing his old master in Pierre Corneille's 17th-century tragicomedy L'Illusion Comique, adapted by American playwright Tony Kushner (Angels In America) and retitled The Illusion.
It tells the story of Pridament, played by comic stalwart Phil Scott of The Gillies Report and the STC's Wharf Revue. We follow Pridament on his search for his lost son (Yure Covich).
Scott, who is also collaborating on the score, Sonic Illusions, with DJ Soup, was approached after scoring last year's Relaxed and Comfortable group's production of Cloud Nine.
"It's such a vibrant company," Scott says. "They're all on the same wavelength, which is hard to find, and they have this 'go for it' attitude in everything they do. I thought I better work more with these guys, and then Damien said there's a role for you if you can fit it in to your busy schedule, so I went to Centrelink and organised that."
Perhaps he can claim it as Work For The Dole?
Millar: "At least that way they'd be paid for what they're doing; they're doing it for love, the poor bastards."
Pridament's quest brings him to the otherworldly cave of a magician, played by Zoe Houghton.
"The magician is usually played by a crusty 70-year-old man," Millar says, "but we've got a young woman in that role."
Scott: "There's something about the female of the species being able to tap into that spiritual psychic realm a lot better than men can. The Earth Mother and all that."
The magician uses her specially equipped cave to enlighten Pridament through three blackly comic illusions, one of which features the skills of Kyle Rowling, who choreographed the fight scenes in Star Wars: Episode II and III.
"Kyle's a fantastic physical artist, he can tell emotional stories through violence," Millar says.
"We're going from 17th-century France to modern-day Australia, so why not have a big swashbuckling moment in there?"
Along the way we also encounter other larger-than-life characters such as Matamore (Thomas Campbell), who Millar describes as "a completely insane lunatic". As opposed to a completely sane lunatic?
"He's really one of the most outrageous characters ever written," Millar says. "He's full of grandiose nonsense. He pretends to believe that the Queen of Iceland is chasing him on her sled, because in his brain Iceland means 'land of ice'."
Sounds like a crystal meth addict.
"Worse," Millar says, "even more delusional. A crystal meth addict with military pretensions. He's a literal lunatic - he's obsessed with the moon."
No wonder that Corneille, who went on to write Le Cid, was criticised by the French establishment when he first presented the work in the 17th century.
"Corneille got in trouble for mixing comedy and tragedy," Millar says.
"You weren't supposed to do that. It reads like Shakespeare now. In some respects it's that mixture of poetry and drama that you just don't get in modern plays at the moment."
It was this otherworldliness that first attracted Millar to the play.
"It has such a sense of magic, it was such an ambitious work that I was surprised it hadn't been snatched up by one of the big companies," Millar says.
Scott looks perturbed. "I thought you were just looking for a vehicle for me - wasn't that the point?"
(this article originally appeared in the Metro liftout of The Sydney Morning Herald on April 28, 2006 and at www.smh.com.au at http://www.smh.com.au/news/arts-reviews/the-illusion/2006/04/28/1145861517226.html)