In this theater publicity image released by Boneau/Bryan-Brown, Peter Bartlett,...

In this theater publicity image released by Boneau/Bryan-Brown, Peter Bartlett, left, and Finn Wittrock are shown in a performance of "The Illusion," in New York. Credit: AP

In a way, it feels right to close the Signature Theatre Company's 14 invaluable years at its space on the far west side of 42nd Street with "The Illusion," Tony Kushner's free adaptation of Pierre Corneille's 17th-century French comic fantasy.

More precisely, it feels right at the very close of the play, when magic and love and, most of all, the theater are celebrated in an enchanting tribute to the evanescence of all things worthy in the world.

Next fall, the Signature, which dedicates itself to a single playwright each season, will have moved to its larger complex a few blocks east, custom designed by Frank Gehry. "The Illusion," which runs through July 17, marks the end of this otherwise extraordinary season devoted to the ever-surprising, ever-challenging Kushner.

As for the rest of "The Illusion" -- the stretch between a magical beginning and enchanting finale -- a surprising amount of patience is required.

Written in 1990 and seen in a more charming production in 1994, this "Illusion" is more a modest stylistic diversion -- all right, a tedious modest diversion -- than a divining rod to Kushner's blazingly political and intimate work.

It is more fun to imagine his motivation for writing this curiosity than to ponder much of this good-looking but unevenly cast, heavy-handed production, an unusual misstep by director Michael Mayer ("Spring Awakening," "American Idiot").

A sad but proud old lawyer (the amusing David Margulies) comes to the cave of a magician (the always wonderful Lois Smith in a role last played by a man) and her slave (Henry Stram). The visitor wants to know what happened to his son (Finn Wittrock), whom he banished years earlier.

The sorcerer recreates scenes from the young man's amorous adventures with a wealthy beauty (Amanda Quaid), her clever maid (Merritt Wever), her rich suitor (Sean Dugan) and a sweetly befuddled fop (Peter Bartlett).

Kushner wrote this between the first production of "Millennium Approaches" and the first draft of "Perestroika." When completed, "Angels in America" ran seven hours and seemed to be about everything. "Illusion" takes about 2 ½ hours and, until the stunning final images, isn't about much beyond class, short-sighted fathers of high-spirited sons and the over-played preciosity of performance. Wish the theater had revived "A Bright Room Called Day," instead.WHAT "The Illusion"

WHERE Signature Theatre Company, 555 W. 42nd St.

INFO $20; 212-212-244-7529;

BOTTOM LINE Kushner 17th-century curiosity, clumsily revived

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