Harrison writes, “We were turning people away, after seating as many as we could on the floor between the stage and the seats, cross-legged.” And of the engagement of that crowd he says, “A visiting Manhattan theatre director wrote, ‘I have not seen an audience participate with theatre like that since I was a child visiting London. Even then the audience was not as effervescent as this crowd.’” Any playwright should wish for such a loss of control.
Magus is Harrison’s 35th play for the stage in an award-winning playwriting career that has included 17 hours of Masterpiece Theatre and more than 100 scripts for television and radio, as well as many acting appearances for the BBC and in theatres on both sides of the Atlantic. In this production (which he also directs), he plays the lead character Sir John Dee, Queen Elizabeth I’s tutor and the most celebrated magician in British history. Dee’s magic is combined with a tale of William Shakespeare as a young man in a historical fantasia with Franz Kafka and Miguel de Cervantes in 16th-century Prague, where Kafka’s mentally deranged sister believes that she is married to Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor. Kafka enters his sister’s world, hoping to dispel her delusion.
When asked if the play has been significantly tweaked since last June, Harrison says, “Not significantly, no – maybe a few cuts here and there, and we have four new actors playing the main roles, so you think of new humorous things.” To match the new players, presumably? In this production Franz Kafka is played by George Conrad, with Phillip Levine as the alchemist Edward Kelley, Ric Bennett as Cervantes, Mark Kanter as the Emperor Rudolf, Brittany Sokolowski as Ottla Kafka, Rudi Azank as Shakespeare, Naomi Hard and Debbie Temple as Mrs. Dee and Mrs. Kelley. Designs are by Claire Lambe, co-founder of the theatre company, and live music is performed by guitar virtuoso David Temple.
The Center welcomes Harrison and his talented cast of characters this weekend for another round of performances of Magus at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, with a 3 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Tickets are $24 for adults and $22 for seniors and children, and can be ordered online at www.centerforperformingarts.org or by calling the box office at (845) 876-3080. The Center, a non-profit arts and education organization, is located at 661 Route 308, three miles east of the village center in Rhinebeck.