Pedro Calderon de la Barca's 1636 play Life is a Dream has arrived at Walker Space as the inaugural production of the Edge Theatre Company. It's an ambitious if not entirely successful production of this infrequently performed work.
Life is a Dream takes place in Poland, and focuses on two stories: That of the imprisoned prince Segismundo (Omar Metwally) at the mercy of his father Basilio (Guiesseppe Jones), and that of the young Rosaura (Kathryn Zamora-Benson) on a quest to take revenge upon the man (Andrew Grusetskie) who dishonored her.
But the play's real achievement is its study of fate, and what role everyone plays in their own destiny. Does Segismundo's father doom himself to destruction because he attempted to convince his son that his short-lived time in paradise was a dream, or do Segismundo's actions cause it to happen? By the time the enigmatic ending arrives, many questions (rightfully) remain unanswered.
Calderon himself has asked these questions creatively. In this production, two sets of hands are shaping the way Life is a Dream is presented to the audience, and not always for the better.
John Clifford's translation, originally used several years ago in the Edinburgh International Festival, is remarkably patchy; there are as many callous, throwaway words and phrases as there are lines of impassioned feeling and beauty where the soul of Calderon's original work really seems to shine through.
Carolyn Cantor's direction imposes a modern sheen on the story. This works most of the time, but occasionally - such as when one character produces snacks from nowhere to watch action onstage, or when that same character later arrives with a six pack of beer - feels unintentionally jarring and unwelcome. Other directorial touches waver between the welcome (entrances and exits made through unexpected places in David Korins's wildly inventive sets) and the unnecessary (portraying Rosaura's arrival by horse with a puppet).
Cantor's cast is mostly well chosen. Zamora-Benson's Rosaura is sly and charming, Metwally is impressive as the tortured prince, and Jones makes a regal and authoritative Basilio. Arthur Aulisi as Clotaldo, a nobleman with a secret, and Grusetskie as Astolfo do solid work, but Andres Munar, as Rosaura's companion Clarin, is a bit to unfocused, and never makes the dramatic or comic impressions he should.
The standout, though, is Aliza Waksal's pitch-perfect Estrella, the obstacle between Rosaura and Astolfo. She makes a searing comic impression from her first line, and is able to pull enormous laughs out of the most inoccuous of the moments, while never sacrificing the drama of the story underneath.
It's a shame that not everyone involved in this production of Life is a Dream does as much, but the result is an entertaining evening nonetheless.
Edge Theater Company