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A CurtainUp Review
Life is a Dream
David Lohrey
There's a guy with his eyes wide open , but he is still in the dark.
Theatre companies have every right to believe that critics enter their lobbies with open minds, ready to give new productions an objective look, free of conceived ideas and prejudice. Many critics no doubt do have open minds, but I have to confess to all kinds of funny little preconceived ideas. Your guess is as good as mine as to where these impulses originate. But I must confess to having recognized such reflex bigotry when I approached the façade of the Walkerspace where I was to see Life is a Dream. Well, honestly, something about the broken sidewalk, the graffiti walls, and the blackened entrance itself made me think I was in for an artistic amateur hour. Boy, was I wrong.

Far from being the disappointment I had anticipated, this production of Life is Dream is a revelation. Virtually everything about it, beginning with the tight, disciplined direction of Carolyn Cantor, is enough to send the most hardened theatergoer back to the library to read or reread the text by Pedro Calderon de la Barca. One simply cannot get enough of this masterwork. Written in 1636 it is one of the few comedies that steps beyond the Roman-influenced formula of frustrated lovers and tackles the tragic subject of family inheritance and political succession. It rivals Shakespeare's Henry IV as a study of father-son relations, but surpasses the English work by touching on the metaphysical topic of life's meaning and the moral conundrum of justifying revenge in a purposeless universe.

Cantor keeps her relatively young cast on their toes, and they never disappoint. Omar Metwally excels as Segismundo, the betrayed, imprisoned son of the King Basilio (Guisseppe Jones). Metwally plays the emotionally maimed, helpless prisoner with just the right amount of suppressed rage. When he's released, he frightens us with his maddened impulses. In his final reconciliation with his now-humble father, he is noble without arrogance. Jones too is magnificent. A large man, Jones has no trouble commanding the stage, but what makes him compelling is his sincerity. Their scenes together are grand.

Rosaura (Kathryn Zamora-Benson) and Estrella (Aliza Waksal) are feminine, but strong. Each has vocal command. Both are beautiful. Ms. Zamore-Benson persuades us of her sense of outrage in being cheated by Astolfo (Andrew Grusetskie). She is amusing when playing opposite Clarin (Andres Munar), but somber with Segismundo. Her passions can be seen beneath the surface. Her rival Estrella plays especially well with Astolfo, and is totally convincing as the court's favorite.

Clotaldo (Arthur Aulisi) above all else looks the part of the King's local servant. But Mr. Aulisi does more than merely wear his costumes well. He executes his orders with flair, a graceful nonchalance that is very difficult to bring off on stage. He is at once eager and indifferent. Very well done. Andres Munar as Clarin is brilliantly directed. Servant to Rosaura, he plays the unwritten chorus, with asides to the audience, and a habit of bringing contemporary props, such as a 6-pack of beer on the stage as though a messenger from the future. He is the voice of the audience, a hilarious Everyman. As court jester when the throne is in dispute, Clarin tags along, ready to wag if not lift a finger. Clarin is a wise man, but as played by Munar, never smug.

Even the Court members and soldiers stand out in this production where nothing has been left to chance. Korins' sets work splendidly in all their various guises. The costumes too are perfect. All of this works to perfection in service of Calderon's play. Director Cantor seems to have grasped quickly the fact that this magnificent script needs nothing by way of gimmicks to make it work, just a solid cast.

It was all a bit surprising to me, but for those who know Cantor's work, this stunning production will only confirm the fact that what's happening in the Walkerspace is pure magic.

Written by Pedro Calderon de la Barca.
Translator: John Clifford.
Director: Carolyn Cantor.

Cast: Kathryn Zamora-Benson, Andres Munar, Omar Metwally, Arthur Aulisi, Aliza Waksal, Andrew Grusetskie, Guiesseppe Jones, Sturgis Adams, Jenn Harris, Dustin Tucker, Ben Schenkkan.
Composer: Michael Friedman.
Set Design: David Korins.
Costume Design: Lora LaVon.
Lighting Design: Ben Stanton.
Sound Design: Jerry Yager.
Running Time: 2 hours, with one 10-minute intermission
Walkerspace, 46 Walker Street, New York, (212) 621-9703.
1/26/2001 - 2/16/2002, Thurs - Sun at 8pm.
Reviewed by David Lohrey based on performance of 1/27/02.
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