At Trinity: Sueño confounds and enchants
Sueño means dream in English. The play called Sueño certainly possesses all the characteristics of a dream and much more.
For instance, in this unusual piece of theater sometimes we don’t even know who the characters really are, and neither do they. Nor do they always know if what is happening is reality or possibly a fugue state. That’s all right, though. In fact, it’s partly the point.
On stage through May 8 at Trinity Rep, the circa 1635 Spanish play by Pedro Calderón de la Barca as adapted by José Rivera, is part farce, part love story, and part ironic tragedy. It hilariously replicates the confusion and random circumstances of a dream at the same time it plumbs the depths of life-defining philosophies.
Sueño does it all with irrepressible humor and incisive seriousness too, offering complex perspectives on the human condition, contemplating what motivates the passions and follies of kings as well as the common person, while it simultaneously illustrates the fog of contradictions that characterize our very existence, our assumptions about what everything signifies.
Its nine characters, some of whom assume dual identities, represent various social strata ranging from royalty to prison guards. Almost everyone’s identity is somewhat fluid.
At the center of the plot are Spanish King Basilio and his son Segismundo. Basilio has the prince imprisoned at birth when an astrological analysis convinces him that Segismundo will grow up to become a tyrannical king and set off a destructive civil war.
After 25 years he is discovered by Rosaura and Clarin, her Sancho Panza-like servant. Rosaura is a young woman disguised as a man, who is seeking revenge against Duke Astolfo, cousin to Segismundo. Astolfo, not knowing about Segismundo and believing that Basilio has no heirs, is a pretender to the throne of Basilio. Previously, Astolfo had defiled Rosaura and taken up with Princess Estrella, which are the reasons why Rosaura wants to kill him.
Are you following this? Perhaps not, but it doesn’t really matter. The players make it all come as clear as possible and entertain you immensely as they do.
When he reaches adulthood Prince Segismundo is freed by Basilio, who has grown doubtful about the astrologer’s prediction and feels guilty. Segismundo takes up his royal role as the king prepares to step back. However, Segismundo is bitter and angry for having been imprisoned, thus missing the opportunity to grow up free and cosseted. He begins to act like the cruel tyrant Basilio feared he would become when first he locked him away as an infant.
The king’s former advisor Clotaldo, who has been Segismundo’s keeper, convinces Segismundo that his time at the palace was a dream, and Basilio confines him to prison again. However, that is more the beginning of the play’s resolution than the end of Segismundo’s freedom. There is much more to be dissected.
The constant thread running through the play, connecting its disparate parts, is the notion of different certainties, the idea that depending on one’s perspective it is impossible to discern what is real and what is illusionary.
Styled by the director Tatyana-Marie Carlo as a telenovela, the production at Trinity suggests parallels to the world’s contemporary information miasma, replete with alternative facts and competing truths.
The beauty of the vehicle and the choices made by Trinity in presenting it is that the script at times takes on the quality of a kaleidoscope, changing its aspect with each twist and turn.
However, if you can’t always figure out exactly where you are or where you are heading, don’t be concerned. Enjoy the journey. It will reward you. As one line says, “We don’t truly wake up until we die.” So, dream on!
High praise must be given to the director and cast. Daniel Duque-Estrada is extraordinary as Segismundo, displaying great range and depth in his various iterations of the character.
Long time Trinity actress Anne Scurria excels as Basilio.
Catia in her debut appearance is superb in her portrayal of Rosaura in all the character’s guises.
Alfredo Antillon, a fourth-year student in the Brown/Trinity Rep MFA acting program is masterful as the dandified Astolfo.
Rudy Cabrera is solid as the duplicitous, but in his own way loyal, Clotaldo.
Andrew Gombas, also a fourth-year student in the Brown/Trinity Rep MFA acting program, delivers a tour de force performance as Clarin. He is the personification of wit and irony and the recipient of some of the worst luck delivered to any of the personae in Sueño. He is equally strong at playing farce or drama, a sad clown or loyal sidekick.
Jihan Haddad, another fourth-year student in the Brown/Trinity Rep MFA program, has the role of the rather ditzy Princess Estrella, the betrothed of Duke Astolfo. She does well, applying a light touch to the comic aspects of the part and distinguishing herself when required to be more serious.