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Ivan Viripaev’s Illusions gives new meaning to ‘true love’

Brett Donahue, Laurence Dauphinais, Andrew Shaver and Marie-Ève Perron charismatically present the tale of two relationships through interconnected monologues instead of acted-out scenes. (Fraser Elsdon)

Why is Ivan Viripaev’s Illusions called that? Perhaps because Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice is already taken.

Or, in the case of the English translation of the Russian playwright’s 2011 play: Denny and Sandra and Albert and Margaret. They are the four principals in a clever four-cornered comedy up and running at the Streetcar Crowsnest’s studio theatre. Mounted there by the engaging SideMart Theatrical Grocery troupe, Illusions is an interwoven dandy about truth, love, betrayal and deathbed revelations. The four actors enter in formal wear, with nothing on their feet, though. No shoes, and yet so many of them fall in this uniquely told story.

As for a drama being uniquely told, here are the stage directions for the stripped-down production’s opening scene: “A Woman appears onstage. Then shortly after a Second Woman. Then a Man appears, then shortly after him a Second Man. They have come only to tell the audience a story about two married couples.” And so they do, charismatically presenting the story through interconnected monologues instead of acted-out scenes. The play is directed by the company’s artistic directors Paul Flicker and Andrew Shaver (who also acts here).

First Woman begins with a story about Sandra and Denny, married for 52 years. “Fifty-two years!” Denny is dying. He tells his wife about what their life together has given him, among other things, that her love was a powerful light, “illuminating everything around it.”

The initial soliloquy goes on – and on. So much so and so over the top that when it comes to the end, one suspects there has to be more to the story. One’s suspicions would be correct. We hear lies and truths (and truths about lies and vice versa), and doesn’t it all make you think?

Husbands and wives will have much to talk about after the play. Or maybe they’ll laugh it off. Some will laugh too hard.

We don’t learn an awful lot about the two couples. It isn’t important: The less we know, the more relatable the relationships. We do learn that Margaret has a “fine sense of humour,” which is a trait shared by most of the four actors. Marie-Ève Perron in particular is delightfully animated. She ends up outside the theatre at one point. We should be thankful that she’s let back in.

Do you know who else has a fine sense of humour? Playwright Viripaev. He asks questions – is an unrequited love an actual love? – and addresses the “what-if?” things which couples may wish to avoid confronting. It is the “never-ending dance of illusions” once referred to by Bob Dylan, who also said that life is but a joke.

The characters being talked about in Illusions are of a generation that will remember the 1969 film Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, which is not about wife-swapping but the then-new compulsion of couples to talk the truth about their relationships. The term “true love” is a funny term. Illusions is the real deal.