Pin It

Magus 

Meeting of the Minds

Kris Lundberg and Carey Harrison as Jane and John Dee in "Magus," which will be staged this month at the Center for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck.

Kris Lundberg and Carey Harrison as Jane and John Dee in "Magus," which will be staged this month at the Center for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck.

What if William Shakespeare had been killed before he was able to write his masterpieces? What if it was at the hands of another famous writer, born over 300 years later? "Magus," the the most recent play by novelist, director, and dramatist Carey Harrison, considers what might have happened if some of the most famous names in writing, history, and magic were to meet in 16th-century Prague. "Magus" explores the power of illusion, boundaries of reality, and the interchanging of time and space.

The Manhattan Theatre Company commissioned Harrison to write a companion piece for a play the company was staging about Rudolf II of Bohemia. Harrison was presented with two stipulations: Use the same costumes and actors as the Manhattan Theatre Company's play, and set the play in 1580s Prague, during the reign of Rudolf II. And then Harrison's imagination ran wild. "A play set in Prague must somehow, I felt, feature Franz Kafka," says Harrison.

Historical bits about the character's lives permeate the surrealist play, creating a mishmash of fiction and fact. In "Magus," Kafka and his sister, Ottla enter a folie a deux (French for "a madness shared by two"). Ottla has fallen so deep into the delusion that she is the queen of 16th-century Prague, that Kafka must enter the dream too, in order to save her, and bring her back to the 20th century.

With "Magus" as well as many other works, Harrison takes classic historical and literary figures and satirizes and dramatizes them. Though the play employs familiar names—Freud and Cervantes make appearances—no one is as they seem, or as we know them. Each character, we find, is in Bohemia to fulfill a secret agenda, from finding a lost love to seeking revenge.

Harrison not only directs but also stars as John Dee, magician and former consultant to Queen Elizabeth I. Dee is in exile, trying to manufacture gold for Rudolf II. As events unfold in Bohemia and true identities are revealed, we learn that Dee is not just an alchemist but also an incarnation of Sigmund Freud. "In 'Magus', I get to play Freud, which for me is ultimate fulfillment," Harrison says.

"Magus" is Harrison's 35th play for the stage. "I began as a realist, focusing on family dramas, as the Greeks did," Harrison explains. In addition to plays for the stage, he has written a number of plays for television. It wasn't until about 30 years into his career that Harrison started to experiment with surrealism in his playwriting.

The son of screen legend Rex Harrison and actress Lilli Palmer, Harrison was surrounded by the stage and the written word growing up. "You do learn from watching, and absorbing the presence, as much as the practices, of others," Harrison remarks. Palmer, in addition to acting, was a bestselling novelist, as was his stepfather, Carlos Thompson. To this, Harrison credits his inclination for writing. "When writing, I can work 14 hours at a stretch, forgetting food and water. Words put me into a trance," Harrison says.

The play, however, nearly fell apart. The Manhattan Theatre Company was unable to bring the play to Woodstock's Byrdcliffe Theater as originally planned. So, with borrowed costumes, Harrison sought out local actors and formed his own company to perform "Magus". The play was staged last June at the Byrdcliffe Theater. The success of "Magus" prompted the Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck to invite Harrison to bring the production to Rhinebeck this month.

"I suppose the play says that dreams, no matter how little rooted in reality, can heal and even save us," says Harrison.

"Magus" will be staged at The Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck, February 4 through February 6. Friday and Saturday shows: 8pm, Sunday matinees: 3pm. (845) 876-3080; www.centerforperformingarts.org.

Speaking of...

  • Video: Georges Malkine, Perfect Surrealist Behavior
  • Video: Georges Malkine, Perfect Surrealist Behavior

    A short film by Stephen Blauweiss on the first retrospective of Georges Malkine’s work ever to appear in the US, at the Woodstock Artists' Association Museum.
    • Oct 1, 2014
  • On the Cover: Georges Malkine
  • On the Cover: Georges Malkine

    “Georges Malkine: Perfect Surrealist Behavior” is the first retrospective of Malkine’s work ever to appear in the US. It opens on October 11 at the Woodstock Artists Association Museum.
    • Oct 1, 2014
  • "Kurt Seligmann at Home"
  • "Kurt Seligmann at Home"

    A Brave Encounter with the Unconscious
    • Dec 1, 2012
  • More »
  • Carey Harrison's play Magus is staged at the Rhinebeck Center for Performing Arts.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • The Souls of Typewriters

    Alon is with his typewriter and looking for collaborators the first Tuesday of every month at Quinn's in Beacon starting at 7pm. He will also be at Beacon Pantry in Beacon on May 16-17 for Beacon Open Studios, and at the Clearwater Festival at Croton Point Park on June 20-21.
    • May 1, 2015
  • CATCH Takes the Hudson

    Intentionally unorthodox, this flamboyant group of nomadic performers wants to stagger its audience by blowing the lines between artistic disciplines.
    • Jul 1, 2015

Hudson Valley Events

submit event

SUNY Ulster String Ensemble

Mon., Dec. 5, 7:30 p.m. — The College’s heralded string ensemble performs its holiday concert under the direction...

View all of today's events

Latest in Theater

  • Acting the Dickens Out of Christmas
  • Acting the Dickens Out of Christmas

    Shadowland Stages takes on an impressive and humor-saturated task this holiday season—"Every Christmas Every Told (And Then Some!)" runs December 2 to 18.
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • Mainstage Productions Presents "Oklahoma!" at SUNY New Paltz
  • Mainstage Productions Presents "Oklahoma!" at SUNY New Paltz

    Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical of all musicals! "Oklahoma!" is the ground-breaking, Pulitzer Prize-winning story in which two young cowboys vie with an evil ranch hand and a traveling peddler for the hearts of the women they love.
    • Nov 3, 2016
  • "Extraordinary Measures"
  • "Extraordinary Measures"

    One-man showstopper James Lecesne returns in "Extraordinary Measures."
    • Oct 1, 2016
  • More »

Related to Theater

More by Samantha Minasi

  • While You Were Sleeping: June 2011

    Poultry farmers hit especially hard by tornadoes, oil companies making record profits—and receiving record tax breaks, nonprofits under attack, the Amazon is in danger, and more.
    • Jun 1, 2011
  • On the Cover: Adie Russell

    Stone Ridge-based artist Adie Russell talks about the most extreme perfect that exists.
    • Jun 1, 2011
  • Food & Drink Events for May

    Beer and cheese pairings, Butchery 101 classes, a Greater Taste of Newburgh, and more.
    • May 1, 2011
  • More »

Hudson Valley Tweets