John Turturro points the camera at the stage in Illuminata, a loving ode to the theatrical world. The subject is, as one character describes it, "the slender curtain between theater and life." Set in turn-of-the- century New York, the film follows the farcical misadventures of a struggling repertory company, which contains all the requisite stock characters, including the luminous leading lady (Katherine Borowitz), the tortured playwright (Turturro), and the boisterous clown (Leo Bassi). Rounding out the cast is Christopher Walken, who hams it up gloriously as a foppish theater critic.
Turturro directs the film with great confidence; through an imaginative visual style and ornate production design, he believably re-creates the look and feel of an early-20th-century playhouse. But he is unable to present an equally convincing depiction of the world outside the theater. This makes it difficult for viewers to remain involved as it meanders to a bland conclusion. For all its ambitions, Illuminata sheds only murky light on what separates theater from life.
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