BWW Review: LIFE IS A DREAM (LA VIDA ES SUEÑO) at GALA Hispanic Theatre
"Life is a Dream" sounds as if it would be a carefree, happy-go-lucky kind of story.
Instead, the much more grave play, known in its original language as "La Vida Es Sueño," is perhaps the best known play by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, a hallmark of the Spanish Golden Age of drama.
The title refers to the problem of discerning what is real and what is a dream. Is dream a life or is life a dream. It comes from someone who has been imprisoned from birth and, once sprung, is so astounded at the difference, he's convinced that it hadn't happened at all. It was all an illusion; life was indeed a dream.
The Spanish Golden Age was in the early part of the 17th century and Calderón's work is as revered there as Shakespeare is in the English language.
Its adaptation at the GALA Hispanic Theatre is both a labor of love and an effort to uphold and extend a cultural treasure. The Ambassador of Spain was among the audience on opening night in Columbia Heights, where the audience embraced the performances of the ensemble, some of whom are established TV stars in Spain.
Performed in Spanish, with English supertitles, and set in Poland for some reason, "Life is a Dream" was revived -- adapted by Nando López and directed by Hugo Medrano -- because they saw some parallels in the modern day, from the #MeToo reckoning sought by the sojourning Rosaura (Soraya Padrao), seeking to reclaim her honor from a rape, to the overthrow of a tyrannical and superstitious king (Timothy Andrés Pabon) who has imprisoned his son Segismundo (Daniel Alonso De Santos) from birth because of a horoscope that suggested he would rise up and overthrow him.
Each has their own sidekick. For Rosaura, it is a bumbling jester named Clarín (Delbis Cardona, in a role perhaps played too broadly, though he realizes it is up to him solely to bring humor to the proceedings).
Segismundo's only sounding board is his jailer Clotaldo (Mel Rocher, in a spirited performance). And the palace has a nephew and niece (Peter Pereyra and Catherine Nunez) planning to marry and take over the kingdom.
As dazed as Segismundo is about his condition and his fate, he is also philosophical about what he should do, as is Rosaura, though her side story in the original seems to have been more fully portrayed in Lopez' adaptation.
There is grandeur and poetry in Calderón's work, and you can hear the Spanish rhyming in the actors' declarations. But that doesn't come through all the time in Heather McKay's translation; the supertitles are placed so far to the edge of the stage (and projected so erratically opening night) that make it a very different experience for those who depend on the subtitles.
Milagros Ponce De León's two-story set was functional and striking, turning from jail to palace by pulling back the bars. Nissan Scharf's projections and sound design by Jesús Diaz Cortés capably suggest the uprisings without adding the armies (nonetheless, the fight director is Casey Kaleba).
Courts' lighting is striking, and the costumes by Moyenda Kulemeka and Eric J. Davis, are, well, a dream.
Running time: Two hours with one intermission.
Photo credit: Daniel Alonso de Santos and Soraya Padrao in GALA Hispanic Theatre's "Life is a Dream (La Vida Es Sueño)." Photo by Stan Weinstein.
"Life is a Dream (La Vida Es Sueño)" runs through Oct. 13 at GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St NW. Tickets at 202-234-7174 or online.