If we learned anything in IH 51, we learned it from Oedipus.
Well maybe we didn’t learn anything, but if the king in Life is a Dream read Oedipus Rex he may have chosen a different path.
Written by Pedro Calderon de la Barca in the 17th century, Life is a Dream is a story about a Polish king trying to save his kingdom from the doom his son is prophesied to bring. De la Barca must have taken his inspiration from Sophocles, but his work is free from the gilded language of the Theban Plays.
In the opening scenes of Temple’s production of Life Is A Dream (translated by John Clifford) we meet the son, Segismundo. He has been imprisoned in a tower since his birth. His only contact with the outside world is through his jailer, Clotaldo, who has taught him to read, write and think.
Segismundo demonstrates this intelligence in his speech, but his actions betray the animal instincts his imprisonment has created. Two travelers, Rosaura and Clarin, come across Segismundo in his mountain prison, and are soon attacked by the untamed man. Clotaldo rescues them, then brings them to the king to be punished for entering the forbidden territory of the prison.
Rosaura has a secret agenda in Poland. Her fiancé, Astolfo, abandoned her and traveled to Poland to seek the hand of the Princess Estrella, and Rosaura is seeking to restore her honor through revenge.
The king frees the two prisoners after revealing to Clotaldo that he plans to free Segismundo and place him on the throne. He instructs Clotaldo to sedate Segismundo and bring him to the palace. If the prince’s actions indicate that he is indeed the chaotic individual he is prophesied to be, then the king plans to sedate him once again and return him to the tower. When Segismundo awakens, he would be convinced that his time in the palace was merely a dream.
Life is a Dream weaves many story elements into an elaborate tale. Although some of the substance of the play seems to have been lost in the translation, the actors and the excellent directing guide the audience through the intricate web of the plot. The rotating stage and the characters that maneuver through and climb on the metal poles of the set give a sense of a much larger scene than Randall Theater allows for.
Lawrence Stallings gives a powerful performance as Segismundo. Stallings stalks the stage while delivering his tortured lines, evoking images of a panther trapped in a cage. As Clarin, Tobias Segal provides both comic relief and acrobatics at just the right moments. Amina Robinson plays the distraught Rosaura in a way that brings out the anguish of a broken heart. King Basilio is played by Michael Baker, who gives voice to the fears we all hold of the future. Eric Courtwright is the tower keeper Clotaldo, torn between conflicting obligations.
Astolfo, played by Lindsay Smiling, Estrella, played by Colleen Corcoran, and the various soldiers, court attendees, and servants fill in the rest of the cast, all playing strong supporting roles.
Life is a Dream explores the questions of fate and self-fulfilling prophecy. Segismundo is fated to be a cruel and chaotic leader, and so Basilio imprisons him as an infant. This imprisonment creates Segismundo’s chaotic personality. It explores many of the same paths as Oedipus Rex, but arrives at a very different destination. There are a few awkward moments when modern phrases pop up in the dialogue. Overall, however, Life is a Dream is a well-executed piece of dramatic theater that has just the right mix of comedy and tragedy.
Life Is A Dream is showing at Temple’s Randall Theater through Feb. 23.