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Sequins and Tinsel

[whitespace] 'Illuminata'
Ibsen Buddies: Donal McCann and Beverly D'Angelo play long-suffering theater owners in John Turturro's 'Illuminata.'

John Turturro's bewildering 'Illuminata' celebrates the vanity of actors

By Richard von Busack

JOHN TURTURRO has created, with playwright Brandon Cole, the gilded, bewildering film Illuminata. He cast it with a number of friends and relations, and then he let them run in separate directions. Illuminata sounds like the title of a Cirque du Soleil performance. Indeed it looks like the sinister side of the Cirque du Soleil: antique popular comedy as seen through lens of modern theater of cruelty. (I'm describing the experience of watching Harlequins and Columbines who might decide to pull a knife on you.)

Illuminata is set in an imaginary version of New York a hundred years ago. Turturro stars as the playwright Tuccio, who is frustrated by the play he's trying to stage. During one performance of his dull play, the lead actor collapses in mid-performance. Addressing the audience, Tuccio entreats them all to return the following day to see his new play, Illuminata, which has not yet been finished, let alone rehearsed. The theater's owners are a husband and wife in a loveless marriage (Beverly D'Angelo and Donal McCann). Minding their investment, they demand that Tuccio perform Ibsen's A Doll House instead. By various seductions and persuasions, Tucci works his will, but there are pitfalls to his plan. The theater's company manager, Rachel (Katherine Borowitz), stalls because of her unhappy love for the writer. And a rival actress, Celimene (Susan Sarandon), schemes to use her body to lure Tuccio into becoming her private playwright.

Though the film is set in New York, it takes place in some sort of Italianate vacuum. The critic Bevalaqua, a grotesque male hag performed by Christopher Walken, is supposed to be the most influential critic in New York. A predatory homosexual, Bevalaqua sets his gaze on an unwilling actor in Tuccio's troupe (San Francisco actor and clown Bill Irwin) for a chase-around-the-table farce scene. Bevalaqua is meant to warn you not to analyze Turturro's film, lest you become a sterile, inverted critic yourself. But it was the Bevalaquas who helped explain and defend the symbolist methods Tuccio uses in his play, his stairways to heaven, his monologues and open endings.

There's a certain audience that can be counted on to zone out on the costumes, spangles and draperies. Illuminata has a few sexy moments, too. But Illuminata is this season's answer to The Impostors, a hopeless confusion that presumes upon your love of actors and acting. Turturro's film is intended to satirize the actors' vanity. Instead, it celebrates their vanity, their assurance that everything they do will be entertaining, transcendent and lovable. Really, watching the film is like visiting a wholesale bead outlet and coming up with a handful of unmatched gauds, sequins and zircons: a bag full of shiny happenstances with nothing to connect them.


'Illuminata' (R; 95 min.), directed by John Turturro, written by Brandon Cole and John Turturro, photographed by Harris Savides and starring John Turturro, Beverly D'Angelo and Christopher Walker, opens Friday in Los Gatos at the Los Gatos Cinema.

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From the August 5-11, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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