Illinois State University School of Theatre and Dance will open its final theatrical production of the fall season with Sueño. This Obie Award-winning translation by playwright José Rivera is an adaptation of Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s classic Life Is a Dream, and will run November 5 , 6, 9-13 at 7:30 p.m. and November 7 at 2 p.m. in Westhoff Theatre.
M.F.A. directing candidate, Paul Christopher, reveals that “Rivera’s adaptation is filled with bold language, humor, violence, and complex characters, all of which add up to a production that has been a joy to bring to the ISU stage.”
Set in 1635, this metaphysical drama—renowned as one of the jewels of the Spanish Golden Age— Sueño follows the life of young Prince Segismundo, heir to the Spanish throne, who is imprisoned at birth when astrologers predicted his reign as king would result in the country’s ruin. The brilliant, passionate prince is raised in isolation. His only companions are the nobleman, Clotaldo, and a God whose very existence he questions. When his father King Basilio finds his own life ending without a legitimate heir, he releases Segismundo and places him on the throne. If Segismundo is gentle and civilized, Basilio reasons, he will be allowed to reign. If he is as wild and barbaric as the stars predicted, he will be sent back to his imprisonment and told that his moment of freedom and power was only a dream. When the tormented Segismundo demonstrates the worst of the astrologers’ fears, he is sent back to the tower, forever unable to distinguish between real life and the world of dreams.
The story is brought to life through stage combat featuring rapiers, daggers, cutlasses, and firearms; conveying the battles to new heights. Thanks to the success of a recent Illinois State University Hatch Project: Call to Arms, the School of Theatre and Dance raised over $20,000 for new stage weaponry. This will be the first production in which some of those weapons will be utilized on stage.
The physical battles faced throughout the show mirror the inner turmoil faced by Segismundo, played by sophomore acting major Renzo Yap and Rosaura, played by junior acting major Leela Wolgemuth. Segismundo and Rosaura meet by mere chance and become infatuated with each other. When we examine their relationship, Wolgemuth says that “Rosaura yearns for her own revenge on all those who wronged her. She is facing a similar internal battle, much like Segismundo. She is interested in the pain he has experienced and wants to see him succeed.”
Audiences will become immersed in this Spanish world through intricate set designs and elaborate scenic pieces designed by Instructional Assistant Professor Mary Jungels-Goodyear. The beautiful backdrop with the map of the night sky plays to the story line of fate and astrology. The designs were inspired by, and contain elements paying homage to Surrealist Spanish artist, Salvador Dali. His work highlighted a world outside of the one we see in front of us and forces us to question the world we live in.
“I incorporated five different Dali paintings into my scenic design for Sueño,” describes Jungels-Goodyear. “The painted backing combines scenes from Dali’s Enigmatic Elements in a Landscape with an atlas of the Southern Hemisphere of the night sky in Winter & Spring.”
The costumes only add to this world outside of reality. From the King to the ensemble, each costume piece is made with extreme detail and advanced artisanship. Like most productions, masks needed to be incorporated. Costume designer Lauren Lowell integrated face coverings into the design of each piece. Masks are a part of the world and co-exist within the fashion of the play.
There are some noticeable differences between Rivera’s adaptation and Calderón de la Barca’s classic, Life Is a Dream. Wolgemuth appreciates the representation of women in this adaptation saying, “they have more agency and presence.” This production will take place in Spain with travelers coming from Poland, whereas in the original it was the opposite. There is not a specific dialect in the production, but there are certain words and iconic lines from the original that connect back to the story.
Wolgemuth wants audiences to walk into this production with an open mind. “Even though the stories are extreme with violence and drama, we can find a way to tie this into our own lives,” Wolgemuth shares. “This play will make you question your own beliefs.”
Sueño is written in sharp contemporary language, but it nevertheless seeks to ask the original and eternal questions posed by Calderón in Life is a Dream: What is man—an angel or an animal? What is honor? What is freedom? If life is a dream, who is dreaming: us? Could God Himself be the greatest dream of all?
“These questions carry a massive weight for all of us,” says Christopher. “It’s all too easy to blame circumstances for our choices and absolve ourselves of responsibility. Still, at some point we must accept our place in the world and the effects we have on it, and that is the issue at the heart of Sueño—what will we choose, enlightenment or savagery? How far will we go if we believe we are justified in whatever we do?”
Tickets for Sueño can be purchased in person at the Center for the Performing Arts Box Office Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. or online through Ticketmaster. Masks are required for the duration of the performance.