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Photograph: courtesy of Building StageLife Is a Dream at Building Stage

Life Is a Dream at Building Stage | Theater review

The Building Stage constructs a vivid rendition of Calderón's dreamy allegory.


Building Stage lives up to its name with its latest production. This utilitarian take on Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s 17th-century play gives the impression that something fresh and significant is being constructed every night. Over three acts, with musical interludes provided by local musicians, the five-person ensemble vividly depicts Calderón’s political allegory with minimal props, costumes and set dressing.

Segismundo (Daiva Bhandari), the prince of Poland, is imprisoned because a prophecy boded ill for the country if he were to come to power. The prophecy comes true when Segismundo’s guilt-stricken father, King Basilio (Nathan Wonder), releases him and allows him to rule; Basilio has to cage his son once more. Segismundo is tricked into believing his experience was only a dream, and when he finds himself back on the throne, the prince must reconsider his actions or risk waking from his fantasy.

The cast savors Calderón’s rich language, and Jo Clifford’s translation maintains the original’s poetic quality while incorporating bits of modern speech to help clarify the story. Bhandari passionately delivers Segismundo’s monologues about the injustice of his imprisonment and its effect on his leadership; she creates an image of the prince that is as lonely and desperate as it is hostile and wild. Through unorthodox casting, director Blake Montgomery, who also appears onstage, creates fascinating scenes like those shared by Astolfo and Estrella, members of the royal court making their own power plays. Rachel Griesinger portrays both roles, performing remarkable split-second character and costume shifts as she builds a romantic relationship with herself.

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