Familial Bonds & Classical Drama in 2019 : Life Is A Dream Opens Next Week

     Originally written in 1636, during the “Spanish Golden Age of Drama”, Life Is A Dream confronts themes such as familial nobility, conflict, and forgiveness all while reimagining the reality in which we live. Harper Joy reimagines this classical drama on Alexander Stage by placing it in an universalized landscape, severing it from its original 17th century setting in Poland. What are the new implications of performing Life Is A Dream in 2019, nearly 400 years after its initial premiere? How does the form of classical theater function in storytelling today? Below, performers Rose Heising (class of 2020), Ruby Daniel (class of 2020), and Anthony Reale (class of 2019) examine these questions.
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How do monologues function in this play?
Ruby Daniel: The monologues have been a really interesting form to work. Some of them really move the story along plot-wise, and some of them are windows into each character’s complex motivations. Most of them serve as asides in a scene with multiple other characters, and we have been playing with a level of awareness of the other character’s thoughts in some of the later scenes. My monologues have been an incredible way to explore my character Rosaura’s inner thoughts and feelings in a classical form.
Rose Heising: Many monologues are asides to the audience. Renaissance actors were not concerned with the fourth wall, and I’m excited and nervous to have actual faces to speak these lines to, and I’m sure it will heighten the stakes for me and keep the lines fresh every night, based on audience reactions.
Can you describe a moment in the rehearsal process that has affected the trajectory of your character-building?
RH: The director once described the show to me as what would have happened if Hamlet had been locked in a tower for twenty years to stew in his own juices. Perhaps even more cruel than killing his baby son, King Basilio decides to keep the child alive but imprisoned. In playing Segismundo I drew from many inspirations, including accounts of feral children who never learned language, and wild animals in cages. But unlike a feral child or animal, Segismundo’s intellect has been cultivated extensively, and in many ways, he’s spent all of his time pondering and finding the eloquence to express himself, which I think is what redeems him in the end, that despite his whole upbringing being abused and neglected, he finds refuse in thought, poetry, and dreams.
How has the process evolved since the first rehearsal to now?
RD: I think for a large portion of the rehearsal process I was focusing on developing textual understanding and occasionally, due to that, missing out on moments with my scene partners. There is a scene that we have re-cut between myself and Rose, who plays Segismundo. This scene’s textual direction and the work Rose and I began to do on it in the last couple of weeks have been tonally different from some of my other work on the show, and have helped put the journey of my character into perspective. I have had a challenging time building this role, which has complex components of disguised intentions, foolhardy actions, comedic moments that ultimately culminate in a reclamation of power for a classically powerless women’s stereotype. Working on a more dreamlike sequence has allowed me to understand the behavioral gestures and inner thoughts of my character and clarified much of her pathway for me.
RH: Each night during rehearsal I give myself a new aspect to focus on. Sometimes I work with the image of a wild animal unchained and exploring its environment and body for the first time. Other times I focus on the poetry of the lines and savoring the sounds, and sometimes to keep the show from being too dark, I try to find humor and vulnerability.
What are the implications of performing Life Is A Dream–a play about family vengeance and familial honor–in 2019 America?
Anthony Reale: Performing a play about familial bonds and betrayals in 2019 makes me reevaluate the ways that I engage in close relationships and what I do to maintain those relationships. King Basilio, the character that I am playing, desperately wants his actions to be the right ones for his family and his kingdom, but in getting too invested in listening to the stars and fates, he ends up deeply hurting his family.  Playing this character makes me think about how our ethics can sometimes be in the way of kindness towards others. I don’t mean to say I’m losing my ability to stick to my ethics, rather I am now thinking of how a commitment to somewhat arbitrary social rules can potentially damage social bonds.
I’d like to add that the power of forgiveness in this play reflects the power of forgiveness in real life––something that we often seem to forget.  Forgiving someone is an enormous act, something that can change the course of the world. Being the bigger person is a difficult thing, but this play shows the beauty of forgiveness.  Forgiveness requires listening, love, and a deep sympathy––exactly what our time needs.
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Life Is A Dream runs May 2 – 4 @ 8 PM, May 5 @ 2 PM, and May 16 – 18 @ 8 PM. Buy your tickets at HJT Box Office open M – F 12 – 4 PM, or buy your tickets online HERE.