“Picture Inception in 17th-century Poland,” said first-year cast member Marley Lindsey. Yet even Christopher Nolan has a thing or two to learn from 17th-century playwright Pedro Calderon De La Barca on the nature of reality and dreams. Life is a Dream, UT’s sixth-week production, erases the line between dreams and reality, calling upon the ancient question of where dreams start and reality begins.
Life is a Dream tells the story of a king, Basilio (Allesio Franko), and his son, Segismundo (Tom Murphy). Soon after his birth, it was prophesized that Segismundo would be a tyrannical king. For the sake of the country, Basilio locks Segismundo away and raises him in secret.
At the start of the play, Basilio regrets his decision and wonders whether to allow his son, who is still imprisoned, a chance to prove he will be a good ruler. He decides to provide his son one chance on one day to rule the country. If he appears to be a vigilant, honorable king, Basilio will claim him as his heir; if not, he will drug him, sequester him again, and claim that whatever Segismundo remembers from that day is all a dream.
To make matters complicated, each of the three acts is produced as a dream from the perspective of one of the characters, and there are no intermissions. In between acts, the music shifts and the set changes so the audience can perceive the difference.
“Each act is a different type of dream, and my dream [Act 1] is a nightmare,” said first-year Allesio Franko, who plays Basilio. “Everything is a projection of my fears and my regrets.”
The second act is from the perspective of Segismundo, and the third is a more lucid dream from no one’s perspective in particular. Even more convoluted, there are certain characters that exist only as figments of the imagination of other characters.
Part of the challenge presented to director Evan Garrett, a third-year in the College, and his cast was the lack of stage directions.
“We’ve really developed this world; there’s no set description on what costumes should look like or sounds should be. Even the script is really sparse,” said Garrett.
Third year Mary Claire Walther plays Rosaura, a woman who has traveled across the sea to kill her lover Astolfo (Jason Shain), and is the main figure of an important subplot in the play. Walther describes her character as existing only in the dream of Segismundo, and because of this her gender changes throughout the performance.
“Ultimately, I’m a figment of Segismundo’s imagination, and I change because the dream changes,” said Walther. In the first dream, she is a man, in the second a woman, but in the third it is ambiguous. However, her goal remains the same throughout the play. Walther has incorporated this confusion into creating a dynamic character for herself.
“You feel like you’re in a dream already, and although my mannerisms change, my focus doesn’t,” said Walther. “Because it is a dream there is a fantastical quality to everything. It has given us the chance to be truly creative.”
To enforce the dream-like nature of the play, Garrett has chosen to incorporate some unusual visual aids. The play begins with a monologue by King Basilio, which is accompanied by a shadow puppet show, and there are two dance sequences.
“The writing is so gorgeous and thoughtfully put together...what we do just adds to it,” said assistant director and first-year Eric Shoemaker.
Included with the overarching questions about reality and life are other themes Garrett feels resonate with college students.
“Segismundo and Basilio are people who care deeply about each other but commit grave injustices to one another,” said third-year Tom Murphy, who plays Segismundo. “They must come to terms with how they can be a family. Even though it’s a play about dreams and the unstable, flighty paths of our lives, there are parts about loyalty and forgiveness that are exceptional throughout the play.”
“It’s a show about fathers and sons, a story about love and forgiveness,” said Garrett. “It’s good for college students to watch shows about forgiving your parents.”