BWW Reviews: LIFE IS A DREAM is a Sensational Tour de Force
In 1975, Main Street Theater began with a dream of bringing quality theatre to Houston audiences. Whether we are actually existing or living in our imaginings, one thing is certain: Main Street Theatre has fulfilled its reverie for 37 years, and is continuing to do so with the opening of the first production of their 38th season-the Regional Première of Nilo Cruz's adaptation and translation of Pedro Calderón de la Barca's LIFE IS A DREAM.
In the play, Segismundo, the heir to the throne, has been imprisoned his whole life because astrological omens prophesized that he would be a cruel tyrant that destroyed the kingdom. His father, King Basilio, decides to tempt the fates and see what would happen if his son was given just one day to rule the kingdom. From the moment the play opens, the audience is treated to an allegory on the mysteries of life and how one can tell if they are dreaming or living in addition to what comes of The Lofty dreams that propel us through life.
Nilo Cruz's adaptation trims down the original text and cuts out the metered poetry. It is imbued with a sense of urgency and drive, and Pablo Bracho's direction perfectly captures this element. Each monologue and soliloquy is delivered with such practiced perfection that the audience is riveted to their seats and entranced in the moment, never feeling that they sat through a long, edifying speech. The audience simply gets swept away and lost in the powerful language coming from the stage, being mentally nourished by every profound word and phrase. Even with the heightened and beautiful language, under Pablo Bracho's direction Nilo Cruz's modern adaptation of this fantastic piece of 1600s theatre, feels fresh, vibrant, and ultimately new.
David Wald stars and commands the stage as Segismundo. The audience first sees him as he delves quietly into deep introspection, questioning the value of his imprisoned life. He is instantly charismatic and fascinates the audience, but his talent really gleams as he builds through anger, resentment, and rage in later scenes. David Wald adeptly proves his versatility in the role, vacillating between someone lost in their identity, a monstrous tyrannical ruler, and a caring, compassionate humanist.
As Clarín, a Shakespeare-inspired fool character, Philip Hays is astounding. He adroitly manifests each characteristic to sell the character that has the most intuitive insight into the situation but is ignored by all. Moreover, he consistently adds a delightful air of humor to the show, easily getting the audience to laugh out loud with his fantastical follies.
Crystal O'Brien and Justin O'Brien are majestically regal in their roles of Estrella and Astolfo, respectively. While they have not been given large amounts of dialogue despite the amount of time they are on stage, they deliver their lines very well. More impressively, they both have great control of their facial expressions and provide some of the evening's most fantastic facial acting. Moreover, there is an exhilarating, impressively physical, well-choreographed, and pristinely executed sword fight between David Wald's Segismundo and Justin O'Brien's Astolfo that is sure to leave the audiences on The Edge of their seats.
In this adaptation, Rosaura, played by the stellar Beth Lazarou, Clotaldo, played by the debonair David Grant, and Basilio, played by the stately Steve Garfinkel, add a rich emotional context and layer to the show. Even with the marvelous performances given, these parts fade into the background, finding less development in the writin than other roles. Each of these actors, along with Bobby Haworth and Joanna Hubbard, serving as ensemble cast members, fully commit to their assigned and somewhat diminutive roles to round out the production, allowing it to fully realize its philosophical potential by furthering the discussions present in the text.
The technical aspects of the show are spectacular considering the space provided. Jodi Bobrovsky has designed a versatile and interesting set. Utilizing curving lines and tarnished colors, the set is adaptive and imaginative-inspiring the audience to partake in the dream of the show. Carrie Cavins' compliments this with a masterful lighting design that utilizes color to imply mood and setting with ease. The lighting elements also work in some special effects, like a moving and shimmering effect, to further explore the themes of the show. Lastly, Chris Bakos sound design is immaculate. There is a constant barrage of appropriate sound that fills in any gaps that the set and space create, ranging from dripping water to a beautiful underscoring.
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