image of Segismund (Jak Watson) on stage in Life Is a Dream (J Fannon Photography)

One of the most renowned plays from the Spanish Golden Age, Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s La Vida es Sueno (Life is a Dream), was initially published in 1636. In 1981, the “mother of Latinx playwrighting” María Irene Fornés adapted this classic into Life is a Dream, a production that has since been in a deep slumber, now awakened at Baltimore Center Stage.

Cover photo: Segismund, portrayed by Jak Watson, is at the center of the narrative of Life is a Dream. (Photo by J Fannon Photography)

Under the direction of Tony Nominee Stevie Walker Webb, Life is a Dream takes the audience on a journey through a world where perception and reality intertwine. The minimalist set design by Anton Volovsek captivates with an imposing boulder that dominates the stage. Paired with Cha See’s meticulously crafted lighting design, the stage is its own character – perhaps the titular dream.

Set in Poland, Life is a Dream explores the balance between destiny and free will. At the center of the narrative is Segismund (Jak Watson), a prince who has spent his life imprisoned in chains by his father, King Basilio (Nancy Linden), as a result of an astrological prediction that he would bring ruin to the kingdom.

O'Malley Steurman as The Angel (J Fannon Photography)
O’Malley Steurman as The Angel (J Fannon Photography)

Decades later, Basilio reconsiders his reaction, ordering his attendant Clotaldo (Geraldo Rodriguez), to give Segismund a sleeping potion and bring him to court to observe his behavior. Should Segismund misbehave, he will be given the potion and reimprisoned, convinced that his experience at court was a dream.

As the story unfolds, we encounter the determined Rosaura (Erin Margaret Pettigrew) who disguises herself as both a man and a lady in waiting on her quest for justice. She is accompanied by servant Clarin (Christopher Sears) whose comic relief could convince even the most skeptical audience member that they are, in fact, dreaming.

Kenè Chelo Ortiz as Astolfo in Life is a Dream (photo by J Fannon Photography)
Kenè Chelo Ortiz as Astolfo in Life is a Dream (photo by J Fannon Photography)

We also meet flirtatious and power-hungry cousins Estrella (Andrea Morales) and Astolfo (Kené Chelo) whose arc and antics feel plucked straight from Shakespeare’s folio. All the chaos is observed by The Angel (O’Malley Steurman) who is always close by, whether watching from the wings or serenading us with Prince’s When Doves Cry from atop the boulder.

Fornés’ adaptation of Calderón de la Barca’s original work condenses the play into an 80-minute one-act format, preserving core themes like honor and duty while infusing contemporary sensibilities including updates to the ending that resonate with today’s audience.

What is life? You decide at Baltimore Center Stage until May 21.
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Author Profile

Bekah Walsh
Bekah WalshBekah Walsh
Theatre Writer for Baltimore OUTloud.

Bekah is a Baltimore-based ally who is obsessed with all things Broadway. In addition to written reviews, she creates social media theatre content @broadwaybekahchica. When she’s not at a show or organizing her Playbills, you can find her rehearsing with the New Wave Singers of Baltimore, enjoying stoop night with friends, or snuggled up with her husband and pets.