Backbiting, treachery, sexual dalliance, intrigues -- that is the stuff of drama, often more behind stage than actually on the boards. John Turturro
's "Illuminata" is a raucously radiant depiction of theater-company dramatics. It's a bawdy and flowery piece that should enliven art house business in the U.S.
Bolstered by a premiere cast, including Turturro, Susan Sarandon
, Beverly D'Angelo and Christopher Walken
, "Illuminata" is a fleshy and aptly messy treatise on creativity and survival. In Turturro's adaptation of a stage play, we center in on a struggling New York repertory company at around the turn of the century. Not surprisingly, the playwright Tuccio (Turturro) and the lead actress (Katherine Borowitz
) have a mutually beneficial relationship, both professional and sexual. Unfortunately for Tuccio, his lead actor doesn't break a leg during the first performance, he dies. Nevertheless, playwrights are an especially nimble lot and Tuccio has another play that he is eager to substitute, an idea not seconded by the theater's management. Alas, an aging diva (Susan Sarandon
) sees advantage in the new play -- there is a big part for her as, incredibly, an ingenue -- and she shepherds the work to the schedule.
Brimming with vainglorious characters, each with their career agendas, "Illuminata" is both a satirical look at the theater as well as a shrewd commentary on creativity. Despite some scathing commentary on the morality of "theater people," the scenario (Brandon Cole, John Turturro
) is an unabashed love poem to the theater. Their screenplay is a ripe tribute to the theater and peppered by from-the-wings insights into the magical and manic process.
Fittingly, the film comes most alive in the performances with Turturro evincing a wonderful lead performance as the ambitious playwright. A special delight are the sprightly performances by Susan Sarandon
and Christopher Walken
who push their portrayals to the red line. As the prima-donna diva, Sarandon exudes appetite and manipulation, while Walken is terrific as a foppish, egocentric drama critic.
Under Turturro's affectionate hand, the technical contributions are consistently marvelous, from cinematographer Harris Savides
' lush lensings to composer William Bolcom
's circus-style score, which conveys the zest and craziness of the great and small dramas going on off stage.
Executive producer:Giovanni di Clemente
Producers:John Penotti, John Turturro
Screenwriters:Brandon Cole, John Turturro
Based on an original play by:Brandon Cole
Director of photography:Harris Savides
Line producer:Carol Cuddy
Music:William Bolcom with Arnold Black
Conceptual designer:Roman Paska, Donna Zakowska
Production designer:Robin Standefer
Costume designer:Donna Zakowska
Old Flavio:Ben Gazzara
Running time:120 minutes