Life is a Dream
BASED ON THE PLAY BY: PEDRO CALDERON DE LA BARCA
STAGE VISION AND DIRECTING: DINA MARKOVA
TRANSLATED BY: STOYAN BAKARDZHIEV
VISUAL ENVIRONMENT AND COSTUME DESIGN: BOYAN ARSOV
CHOREOGRAPHY AND MOVEMENT: BOYAN ARSOV
CAST: BOYAN ARSOV, VYARA KOLAROVA, KONSTANTIN IKONOMOV, RALITSA PETROVA, PAVEL EMILOV, VENTSISLAV SARIEV, KALOYAN KATINCHAROV, IRINA PARVANOVA
FROM: SONG THEATRE
DATE ATTENDED: 5 JUNE 2019
What I Saw
Have you ever wondered what would happen if a Slipknot cover band comprised of college freshmen decided to stage an adaptation of Calderon’s Life is a Dream? Well, dear reader, no need to wonder any longer, for I have seen it, and it is just as egregious as you might imagine. Like some circus full of over-eager novice fetishists that don’t know the first thing about BDSM - covered in Halloween clown masks, wielding whips and balloons, and confused as to why gimp masks limit their ability to articulate complex language - this production tortured its audience and never bothered to offer them a safe word.
The scenic design consisted of a series of differently-sized ladders that appeared to actually be in various states of disrepair. Occasionally, a papier-mâché moon descended like a piñata. In the context of the production, this moon was nothing but filigree; it wasn’t utilized in any significant way by the performers, all of whom were decked out in post-apocalyptic Halloween costumes, but continued to make seemingly meaningless reappearances. The ladders were re-arranged throughout the production into contraptions that were not without cleverness, but they never truly conjured a sense of place. I couldn’t overcome my fear for the performers’ (and the audience’s) safety - as the ladder constructions seemed far less than stable in many instances. One of many such examples: the actors set a ladder up upside in a puddle of water; I was convinced that at any moment it would slip on the wet stage, careening the ladder and the performer atop it directly into the audience.
So much of this production was haphazard and extreme to its own detriment; I have a deep penchant for extreme things but only when they serve the production and when their ‘extreme-ness’ is a stepping stone to something else - be it revelation, reversal, inspiration, or catharsis.
The actor playing Sigismund - bedecked in a haphazardly adorned bald cap and nearly nude other than that - engaged in an incredibly athletic and injurious performance for naught. This actor was nothing if not committed - rolling around the stage in unending somersaults, flapping a six-foot ladder as if it were the wings of some imaginary bird, screaming at the top of his lungs - all the while channeling a prepubescent version of Andy Serkis’s Gollum. By the end of the performance, his flesh was streaked red from inadvertent friction burns, his vascular arms trembling from his unrelenting physicality throughout. This actor was literally pouring sweat from under his bald cap, and I felt nothing but pity for him - the actor. Nothing he or the production attempted to accomplish connected me to his character’s emotional experience - which is a robust and complex inner-tapestry exploring neglect, parentage, existentialism, and free will.
Surprisingly, this production won two Ikar awards - one for best debut and one for best actor for the performer playing Sigismund. Perhaps these awards were given out like trophies to mark a little league team’s efforts and to acknowledge their commitment to the cause despite lack of accomplishment - even this cynical reviewer truly admires their unabashed commitment to this misguided theatrical endeavor.