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'Sue?o' - A Review

By Tom Sime, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX – People have performed and treasured "La Vida es Sue?o," or "Life is a Dream," for centuries. Pedro Calder?n de la Barca's drama explores themes and questions we're still wondering about: where does imagination end and reality begin? Do your genes or your surroundings shape your character? These questions seem fresher than ever in "Sue?o," Jos? Rivera's adaptation and translation of the 1636 drama, now on stage in a scintillating production at Stage West, where it was co-produced with Texas Christian University across the street.

TCU student Cody Perret plays Prince Segismundo, heir to the throne of Spain. His superstitious father, King Basilio, played by Gary Taggart, fears astrologers' prophecies that his son will be a tyrant and drag Spain into civil war. So he has the baby imprisoned in a tower and tells the population that Segismundo was born dead. It isn't until 25 years later that he's discovered by a Polish noblewoman, Rosaura, played by the tiny but potent Angie Jepson. She's in Spain to avenge her rape at the hands of Segismundo's cousin.

The Prince falls in love with her immediately, but she's determined to pursue her mission. Meanwhile, the king has repented his decision, and has his son liberated and brought to court. But the young man proves indeed to be a monster, even using his bare hands to blind a servant who disobeys him. And after Basilio has him re-imprisoned and told it was all a dream, Segismundo ends up leading an army to seize control of the kingdom by force. Here, Rosaura offers to help him in his cause.

Rosaura: Shielded with my mother's blessings and armed with my father's sword, I came to Spain and now I've come to you. You have a chance to avenge the wrongs done to you. You're justified in the eyes of God and man. I ask you to let me stand at your side, to fight at your side, and let me find my revenge. Let the field of combat be the site of my life's recovery.

Segismundo: How is it possible for you to know so much about my dream? All those things you mentioned were the shadows of my sleeping life - impossible for you to know unless it had never been a dream.

Rosaura: It was all true. I was there.

Rivera's version is true to the original, but flavors the dialogue with modern rhythms and idioms, bringing it to life with startling clarity. It's far more successful than Octavio Solis' "Dreamlandia," another attempt to bring modern relevance to "Life is a Dream," but one that devolved into chaos over several years of development at the Dallas Theater Center recently. This time, there's no obscurity, no confusion about who's who and what's happening.

Yet all the intended mystery and ambiguity of Calderon's original is present in force. And it's not a modern-dress version; costumer LaLonnie Lehman dresses the players in a witty hybrid of 20th and 17th-century clothing. Director Jim Covault gets excellent performances from his cast, particularly Taggart as the King, Jepson as Rosaura, and Lynn Mathis as Clar?n, her sidekick, who provides both comic relief and a persistent conscience, despite his cowardly nature.

"Sue?o" is a terrific example of theatrical time travel. Rivera has brought it to us not only to remind us of what its author said nearly 400 years ago, but what its audience felt back then: the immediacy and excitement of a great work spoken in voices very like their own.


Tom Sime is staff critic at The Dallas Morning News. "Sue?o" is at Stage West in Ft. Worth through April 27.