What: “Life is a Dream”
When: Oct. 22 – Oct. 30
Where: Open Book
It’s been almost 400 years since it was written. Pedro Calderón de la Barca, the so-called Shakespeare of Spain, painstakingly extracted from a fictional Spanish monarchy the struggle between free will and fate, with the winner of this existential battle up to the audience by the end.
“La vida es sueño” — or “Life is a Dream” in English — takes its audience on a winding, conscience-bending journey through the life of Segismundo, a prince of Spain. Namir Smallwood plays the doomed royal in the theater production.
“He’s been deemed a monster, but he’s very human still. It takes a lot for him to be gentle and to be a real person. To watch the journey and go through the journey is very taxing,” Smallwood said.
Put in prison for the prediction that he will become a tyrant in his future position as king, Segismundo drifts between waking life and dreams in his bleak surroundings. The individual is deconstructed and replaced by a most base being, operating only for the sake of operating — an epitomized homo sacer in the flesh.
Eventually, the king — Segismundo’s father — decides that he’s been too harsh on his son. In an attempt to retract his presumption of Segismundo’s character, the king releases him from prison for the first time.
The prince’s fate that was predicted for him when he was a child comes true.
“Segismundo attacks [the first woman he sees] with animal impulse,” Smallwood said. “But he has this animal nature in him that has been forced on him by his captors since he was young. What do they expect?”
The cast and crew have visited real prisons to perform “Life’s a Dream,” with reactions consisting almost entirely of complete and utter emulation.
“[The prison audiences]have been awesome, because they totally get it. They’ve had to deal with the same things,” Smallwood said.
A man repeatedly called an averted tyrant and a destroyer of the kingdom will soon come to think of himself as such. The man capable of destroying these bindings will be the better for knowing what he’s deflected.
“As you live your life, you’re not responsible, per se, for the cards you were dealt,” Smallwood said. “You have to overcome what people have said about you. Do you spin those words on their head, or do you stick to them?”
De la Barca once said, “Life is a dream from which only death awakens us.” One would hope that their fortunes and fates were decided by themselves to avoid that barren dream state to which he
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