To emote, or not to emote, that is the question in this farcical film about a play within a play, where life is acting, and acting is life. The central premise of ILLUMINATA, John Turturro’s quirky art house flick, asks whether Tuccio (John Turturro), the playwright, would betray his love for Rachel (Katherine Borowitz), the theater company’s comely manager, or succumb to the advances of Celimene (Susan Sarandon), a scheming diva who sees him on stage and offers him fame and fortune to work as her personal playwright and lover.
When the man and woman theater owners threaten not to stage Tuccio’s play, ILLUMINATA, one male stage hand seduces the woman owner, while a female cast member seduces the male owner, to persuade them to change their minds. When Bevalaqua (Christopher Walken) excoriates the play in his newspaper review, a handsome cast member, Marco (Bill Irwin) goes to work gingerly resisting/succumbing to the critic’s homosexual advances to change his mind about the play. The seducers win.
The film’s classical dramatic central premise might have worked if the story focused on Tuccio, but it strays so far into the murky quagmire of no less than three other simultaneous seductions that it ends up feeling like “Peyton Place” cast in a New York playhouse. With a strongly romantic, pagan worldview, no character shows motives higher than to bed a fellow cast member for personal pleasure or business advantage.
Tuccio’s play is performed, but the path to thespian victory is fraught with so much debauchery as to drain the magic from the spectacle and leave the audience disgusted and disturbed. This film would never have been released if it were not for Miramax’s recent success with SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, from whose strongly romantic worldview ILLUMINATA borrows heavily.
Strong romantic, pagan worldview of a theatre company whose members live for the stage & sexual pleasure; 6 strong obscenities; upper male & female nudity, implied & depicted sex, four explicit seductions & depicted homosexual advances; alcohol use; and, constant debauchery.