Wednesday May 24th 2017

“Life Is A Dream”

Often I am amazed at what our smaller theater companies produce. It seems they are not afraid of a challenge and take on shows much larger than one would think they could handle. Such is the case with the new Vitalist Theatre production ( in association with Premiere Theatre and Performance) of the United States premiere of Calderon de  la Barca’s “Life Is A Dream” in a new version by Helen Edmundson now onstage at Stage 773 on Belmont. Vitalist is known for it’s commitment to plays of compelling ideas and lyrical design. “Life” is a play of the Spanish Golden Age- it’s 16th Century theme deals with politics, power and  social justice. In a play that for the most part demands a lot of actors ( many of which would be soldiers) and a large   stage with extreme sets, Vitalist manages to capture it all on a sparse set(Tracy Orwell), limited lighting (Richard Norwood) and a low budget ( although Rachel Sypneiwski has done a remarkable job with the costumes) this production shines as one that truly shows that the love of presenting art to the audience is the key to making a production a memorable experience.

Under the direction of Liz Carlin-Metz, nine actors bring this production to life, and do so with aflourish. The story is about Segismundo ( strongly performed by Paul Dunckel) who is the son of King Basilio ( deftly handles by the always reliable Madrid St.Angelo) who has been kept in a tower since birth, a birth that killed the Queen and made him appear to be a monster. At this time, Basilio is aging and needs to look at who will be heir to his throne. He has a nephew,Astolfo ( Gregory Isaac) and a niece, Estrella ( Lyndsay Rose Kane) who are both desirous of the throne and who are willing to join as husband and wife to attain it. Clotaldo, Basilio’s right hand man ( well done by BF Helman)  on the bidding of Basilio goes to the tower to bring out Segismundo so the king can see if he is worthy of taking on this role.

There are other stories involved in this almost Shakespearean, mistaken identity after mistaken identity sub-theme. Clotaldo it turns out has a daughter ( who he was unaware of) Rosaura who also plays at Astrea and at one time portrays a man( delightfully played by Vanessa Greenway) who as it turns out was promised to Astolfo as a young maid.At her side, her protector,chaperone and the play’s comic character, Clarion ( Ivan Vega steals every scene in which he participates) and the other two actors who play all the soldiers, guards etc are played by Matthew Allis and Will Gillespie. There is much to do about honor, love, self image, dignity and accountability and through all of this, our hero, who is not sure if he is experiencing reality or a dream, comes through with flying colors and at the end, we have a happy ending. The language is more prose than not and might be called elegant.

The oddity of the play is the setting-Poland, and not Spain? At the time this play was written, Poland was at the center of the political conflicts and made more sense to use over Spain which was on the downslide and Calderon was of the opinion that those in power in Spain, might learn from his play and change their direction and re-examine what they were doing- thus, Poland, due to its power at the time and the same type of values seemed to be the proper way to make his point without causing  any upheavals for his writing the same. This is not of great import to the play itself, but I felt that there should be some awareness to Spanish characters in a Polish story.

“Life Is A Dream” is a remarkable production,small in budget, but large in talent and if you enjoy classic writing one that you will truly enjoy viewing at Stage 773, but only through June 11 th with performances as follows:

Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. at Stage 773 ( formerly The Theatre Building) located at 1225 West Belmont.

Tickets are a mere $25 and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 773-327-5252 or online at www.stage773.com

There is street parking in the area, some metered, some not and valet parking is available as well as free parking if dining at Cooper’s  right across the street.

To learn more about this exciting troupe visit www.vitalisttheatre.org

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