By Calderon De la Barca
In a new version by Helen Edmundson
Directed by Liz Carlin-Metz
Produced by Vitalist Theatre
in association with Premiere Theatre and Performance
At Stage 773, Chicago
Powerful cautionary tale features strong acting
Vitalist Theatre and director Liz Carlin-Metz have a history of mounting epic theatre productions that contains elements of physical theatre, psychological dynamism and magical-realism. There latest is a new version of Calderon de la Barca’s Life Is A Dream by Helen Edmundson that debuted at London’s Donwar Warehouse in 2009. Now in its USA premiere at Stage 773, Calderon’s 1635 powerful drama as been hailed as a masterpiece of the Spanish Golden Age. The work reminds me of Shakespeare with its rich, lyrical, almost poetic language and its universal themes of social justice, the use of power and ambition verses personal gain.
When the Polish King Basilio (Madrid St. Angelo in a commanding and eloquent performance) announces that he is freeing his long captive son – Segismundo (the riveting and emotionally powerful Paul Dunckel), the King is trying to determine if his son Segismundo – long believed by the King to be a haunted soul therefore in need of chains – can become a noble, honest and effective monarch. For years, the King was plagued by a prophecy foretelling that Segimundo would destroy him. The experiment initially brings out the brutal side of Segimundo that, combined with Astolfo’s (Gregory Isaac) and Estrella’s (Lyndsay Rose Kane) desire for the Polish Crown, leads to much intrigue that ignites into civil war.
The King needs to see if Prince Segismundo will raise above his terrible treatment to be a noble and just ruler. The drama depicts the temptations of power, wealth, vengeance and fame to collide at the expense of the common good. As in Shakespeare, this well acted tale deals with honor, humility, accountability and dignity. The King and his noble Clotaldo (BF Helman) define nobility in all its glory while the servant Clarion (Ivan Vega in terrific comic mode) define survivalists.
Life Is A Dream is filled with grand, almost operatic, soliloquies and colorful speeches that are nimbly articulated by this terrific cast. Paul Dunckel exudes the rage, pathos and intensity of the bedeviled prince while Venessa Greenway is the charismatic Rosaura. The cast delivers the rich text with an honesty and heartfelt sincerity that is true to Calderon’s belief that humanity is fragile but without it we become beasts. A lesson we still struggle with today. Vitalist Theatre has mounted an artful, eloquent production of a 17th Century classic.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: May 10, 2011
At Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-327-5252. www.stage773.com, tickets $25, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through June 11, 2011