When approaching the task of directing Tony Kushner's The Illusion at Round House Theatre Silver Spring—a production by Forum Theatre—Mitchell Hébert was inspired by one particular line from the play: "Love is a sea of desire, stretched between two shores. Only the shores are real. But how much more compelling is the sea?"
Says Hébert, who previously directed a version of The Illusion—"freely adapted" by Kushner from a 17th-century comedy by Pierre Corneille—at the University of Maryland: "I wanted to explore the idea of all different kinds of love. The play deals with both the illusion of love, and the idea that love is something that only exists between two human people, and is unique to them."
Hébert is best-known locally as an actor. He appeared in Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company's acclaimed production of Clybourne Park in 2010 and 2011 and recently won a Helen Hayes Award for his portrayal of the morally tortured Quentin in Arthur Miller's After the Fall at Theater J. "That was probably the most astonishingly deep experience of my life as an actor," says Hébert of the role. "It took me months to get over—I was mourning the character for a while. Directing is like using a different set of muscles: An actor's concerned with the singular story of the character, but the director has to consider every part of the story, from lighting to props."
Prior to this production, Hébert also appeared in Forum's The Language Archive, which thrilled Forum artistic director Michael Dove. "We're only eight years old as a company, so to have an actor like Mitch working with us is a real achievement," says Dove. For Hébert, working with companies like Forum offers him different opportunities creatively. "I think smaller theaters tend to do more aggressive work, because it helps them get noticed," he says. "In this case, we don't have thousands and thousands of dollars, which I think is a benefit—it's up to us as storytellers to create the illusions."
The Illusion is at Round House Theatre Silver Spring May 24 through June 16. Tickets $25. 8641 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring; 240-644-1390; forumtd.org.
A version of this article appears in the May 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.