Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Life Is a Dream
Tired of dealing with warring factions vying for the power of succession within his kingdom, King Basilio of Poland (Keith Conallen) reveals that he has a living son. Prince Segismundo (Vanessa Sterling) has been kept isolated in a cave all his life because a prophecy delivered before his birth predicts he will bring disaster to Poland. Basilio has a plan to test Segismundo and stop the infighting. He will drug Segismundo, bring him to court, and observe his actions. If he proves himself worthy of his inheritance, then Segismundo will be king and his cousins Astolfo (Anthony Crosby) and Estrella (Emma Johnson) will lose their claim to the throne. If he proves himself unworthy, Segismundo will be drugged again, returned to his cave, and told it was all a dream.
In Geffers and Vergara's adaptation, the tale of Prince Segismundo is told as a story within a story. Lex Thammavong plays Rosaura (Rosaura's original plot line is largely left out of this version) as a mysterious storyteller who comes upon a cave filled with people who are blindfolded and bound. Limited in sight and understanding, they are just like the people Plato talks about in his famous "Allegory of the Cave." As Rosaura spins her tale, the prisoners become the characters in her story, periodically morphing back into prisoners to talk about what has happened and what they dream will happen to the characters, and then morphing into character again. Rosaura and the prisoners also function as a Greek chorus.
Awkwardly distrustful one moment and violently combative the next, Sterling is genuinely disturbing as Prince Segismundo. Their intensity is vital to the success of the play, as is Lex Thammavong's Delphic turn as storyteller Rosaura. Thammavong exudes sparkling dark energy. Conallen is perfect as exhausted and obstinate King Basilio. Rachel O'Hanlon Rodriguez is hilarious as the much-abused Clarin. There is real sensuality and brutality in Johnson's depiction of the King's niece Estrella, and her run-ins with the always smooth Crosby are gratifying.
A truly multidisciplinary production, the choreography, sets, costumes, lights, and sound work together to create the avant-garde aesthetic of Life Is a Dream. J. Dominic Chason's lighting design is fantastic, creating shapes and shadows that seem impossibly large for the intimate space. Kyra Zapf's creative costume designs are clever, uncomplicated, and well executed. There is a special synergy between Thom Weaver and Alondra Santos-Castillo's simple, well-executed set design and Hassan Syed's dreamlike choreography.
There is risk in taking a post-modern approach to a classic. Not everyone will be comfortable with the production's uncanny blurring of the lines between the central narrative, the meta-story, and the audience itself. Some may feel frustrated when the story becomes paradoxical. Even the opening chanting and singing has the hazy confusion of a dream. It takes a leap of faith to get past the initial disorientation, but it is a transcendent journey for those who want to jump in.
EgoPo Classic Theater's world premiere adaptation of Life Is a Dream runs through March 27, 2022, at Theatre Exile, 1340 S. 13th St. in South Philadelphia PA. For tickets and information, please visit www.egopo.org or call 267-273-1414.