Theater

Don’t Sleep On Sueño: Nontraditional? Yes. Entertaining? Also yes.

The cast of Sueño. Photo by Mark Turek

Some plays are difficult to understand or follow, and don’t adhere to the basics of plot development with protagonists and antagonists facing off before jaunting happily off into the sunset.

Sueño, now on stage at Trinity Repertory Company, is just such a piece, seemingly airy and darkly comedic on some levels yet complex and multi-layered on others. There are a lot of unanswered questions, artistically psychological demands of the audience and nebulous, dream-like moments in which reality becomes what each viewer imagines it to be.

The production might make some uncomfortable with its time-shifting and uncertainty, prompt inquisitive conversations at intermission about what happened or evolve understandings of the themes portrayed in the piece, adapted by José Rivera from the play by Pedro Calderón de la Barca.

Others will embrace the free-flowing concept – how a Spanish prince, Segismundo, hidden away in a remote tower when astrological predictions for the nation under his future rule are dire, is brought back by a guilt-ridden father, King Basilio, and begins to agonizingly question the meaning of life. These viewers will enjoy the layered approach of Director Tatyana-Marie Carlo, who sets the 17th-century piece as a modern-day telenovela, or Spanish soap opera.

On a cleverly-designed stage that shifts from dungeon to castle with a spin of three walls and rotation of stage skirting, Carlo employs believable swordplay and dramatic, soap opera-style dialogue to frame poignant and humorous moments as the prince makes a short-lived yet bloody return to the castle. On his side are the cross-dressing woman, Rosaura, and her servant Clarin, who discover the prince’s prison and want justice for him.

Opposing the prince’s return are the king’s niece and nephew, Astolfo and Estrella, who are next in line to the throne. Caught in the middle is the king’s long-time advisor, Clotaldo, who tutored Segismundo in his prison.

Verbal and physical battles play out Rivera’s impactful words, many of which have lingering effects – lines like “The stars only point the way to the future. They can’t create it.”

There are definitely moments in Sueño that prove tedious and unnecessary. To cement the telenovela concept, Carlo has the story’s cast introduced at the beginning as if they were stars walking into an awards show, complete with wind machine blowing their hair and overly dramatized stances. Other moments teeter on the absurd, like displaying a chart of the royal family tree with a branch labeled “sperm donor.”

Even with such misses, Sueño proves engaging for most of its two-and-a-half hours, largely due to the engaging force of the cast itself. From a delightfully sassy Anne Scurria as King Basilio to the powerful emoting of Daniel Duque-Estrada as Prince Segismundo, and from the wonderfully comic antics of Andrew Gombas as Clarin to Jihan Haddad’s exquisite portrayal the snooty Estrella, the cast is steeped in talent.

Sueño is an experience that requires attention and commitment, but that comes with the reward of entertainment. It is on stage through May 8. For more information, go to www.trinityrep.org.  

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