Life is many things. It might be a dream – as in the title of the classic play Life is a Dream by Pedro Calderon de la Barca (no relation)—but in the collective adaptation of that play that I experienced at Glendon Theatre? Life is tweets, photos, video games.
Sasha Lukac, director and ringmaster, was quick to admit –through his narrator and in an interview a few days ago—that social media is now an unavoidable part of the pedagogical landscape. The adaptation seems to begin with the assumption that “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ’em.”
We are in a very funny place, self-consciously mocking anything and everything onstage. Some of it is deadpan and dry, but often it’s physical and silly and over-the-top. Henry the Horse –from the song—puts in an appearance.
Calderon’s old play is brought up to date at least in deference to smartphone addicts. The up-stage picture often resembles a desktop, through which we see some of the characters peering out, onto the stage-floor. I’m guessing that the credit should go to Production Manager / Scenic Designer Duncan Appleton and/or Technical Director Dean Johnston.
At one point we’re watching the King commanding one of his lackeys to fight off an invasion: one we’ve seen in the old game “Space Invaders”. The images invoked take me back a long way, to the previous generation of games, including a couple of characters reminding me of Mario & Luigi, aka the Super Mario brothers. It’s deja vu from the 1980s.
At times we’re exploring the themes of the play from a distance, as though sending up the whole process, at other times things almost get serious. Almost. But before anyone gets too carried away, there’s usually someone there to poke fun, defusing the seriousness.
I am guessing that Brandon Goncalves is central to the adaptation even though his part –Clarin, a servant who speaks with an accent—is easy to underestimate. Goncalves came across as the director’s alter-ego, a complete wiseass unafraid to dress down anyone and everyone in sight. His part is a mix of Sancho Panza and Harlequin, and enjoys a privileged place on the outside of the action looking in.
Others in the show are not quite as anarchic, perhaps closer to conventional acting. One of the great joys watching a Glendon Theatre show is to bask in the talent, employed in several ways in this kind of show. It’s not a musical but that doesn’t mean we don’t get singing and dancing. I could picture Walt Disney turning over in his grave: that is if it’s possible to turn over when you’re cryogenically preserved. While I may have tweeted “Disney is a Popsicle in a vault somewhere”, parts of this show are like a nightmare you have after babysitting (and watching too many Disney DVDs).
Jonathan Macey’s Narrator confidently runs the show. Amy Ludwig’s Estrella is stretched in her role, sometimes playing along as everyone’s idea of a fun princess, at other times abused horribly. Jameel Baker’s Astolfo, Laith Hamid’s Basilio and Raphael Marcolini’s Segismundo gave us a fascinating assortment of approaches to masculine strength. Director Lukac also populated the stage with several wonderful choral moments, whereby he redressed the usual gender imbalances by giving the women lots of great things to do, often the most enjoyable things to watch.
There’s also a meta-theatrical element via Twitter using the hashtag #HeySegismundo. Prince Segismundo has spent his whole life in prison, due to predictions that he would cause upheaval in his father’s life (something like Oedipus), but in this production tweets are projected onto the upstage screen, as we attempt to advise the prince. I posted a couple of silly –and anarchic– things myself including “loud is good. The loudest actor wins.” Just a few minutes ago (as i worked on this review) Clarin (that is, Goncalves) replied “Sooooo I won?” And i had to admit, yes indeed. I am not sure about this, speaking as someone who is already a miserable social media addict. When i was tweeting –fun as it was– i wasn’t watching the performances.
When my head was up, engaged in the show, I laughed a lot, and loudly. It’s funny as I was struggling to avoid coughing two nights ago at the TSO concert, whereas tonight with free rein to giggle or howl, I feel much better. It’s said that laughter is the best medicine, and I do feel better than I’ve felt in days. Alas, alack, Life Is a Dream by Pedro Calderon de la Barca (no relation) concludes its run tomorrow night at Glendon Theatre.