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A rare ‘Dream’ comes true at Cal Shakes

Calderon de la Barca's


Is so rarely performed - Don’t miss this summer perfection.

Cal Shakes Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone is set to move on to SF Yerba Buena Center of the Arts, but he certainly is leaving his mark with his final season for summer Shakes in Orinda. This is the first production I have seen of this amazing Pedro Calderon de la Barca’s 1635 classic spanish tale. Its the crown jewel of Spanish theatre LIFE IS A DREAM “La vida es sueño”. A rarely staged play due to its maze of complexity. But it reminded me of a better version of “Game of Thrones”.

“I am beyond thrilled to have Nilo Cruz’s exceptional adaptation of Calderón’s classic tale of a man who defies his fate to make a new destiny for himself, his family and his country, on our stage,” says Moscone. “Nilo writes with such urgency, passion, wit, and poetic beauty that the words soar off the page. Add to this the great joy of having the masterful Loretta Greco (Director) bring this play to wildly imaginative life, and I could not be prouder to share this theatrical experience with everyone.”

Director Loretta Greco, kept this complicated classic play fast and clear, and so very entertaining. You could care less about the cold evening winds and the famous Bruin Bats adding to the drama. Greco uses an excellent adaption of the story by Pulitzer Prize author Nilo Cruz. “Everyone who lives is a Dream” is one of the many great moments from the first act as proclaimed by the caged prince Segismundo, played by the dynamic Sean San Jose.

This engrossing LIFE IS A DREAM, is brought to life by an experienced cast and incredible staging, and a sound design for this kingdom that becomes its own character. Beautify and horrifying at the same time the score is composed by Cliff Caruthers. Calderon's main story deals with imprisoned Segismundo, sentenced to a cave at birth by his father King Basilio (Adrian Roberts) fearing a prophecy that his son would take his throne. The new version strips the story to its essence and presents a short cut to our own reality. “No rules in memory for dreams” the prince yells as he is throwen into rightful position for the throne. The prince is allowed to live a day as the son on the throne, and an impressive staging of blood and swords as we see Segismundo fail.

The second plot we meet the violated Rosaura (Sarah Nina Hayon) seeking vengeance against Astolfo (Amir Abullah) to restore her good name. Segismundo is thrown back into prison, after his monster polar side wreaks havoc in the kingdom. Yet in this dream the caged prince is destined to become ruler no matter what it takes. “Out in this world no one is awake” he yells, and his free will is chaos. The King attempts to convince his son his brief stay on the throne was only a dream, but Segismundo is released by his supporters in the kingdom an awakes as a more understanding tragic hero.

Director Greco who is also The Magic Theatre’s artistic director has created some amazing engaging theatre. The 100 min show moves fast, the battles and stage entrances and exits are just as exciting as the story in motion. The cast is excellent also including Julian Lopez Morillas, as Clotaldo the princes jailer and surrogate father. Local favorite Tristan Cunningham as Estrella, an elegant cousin. Jomar Tagatac is excellent as stage clown, Sancho Panza type advisor to the Prince. Jason Kapoor, Kaiso Hall, and Carlos Barrera fill the out the rest of cast and are so very convincing in their battles and stage presence.

Set designer Andrew Boyce, roller coaster ramp set, puts the cast at a fever pitch during many of the choreographed battles. And Boyce created a creepy steel cage that sets the mood as you walk into the Bruin theatre and see Segismundo chained inside. The costumes by Alex Jaeger are elegant and the gold set up for Estrella is scene stealer, along with the capes and armour jumpsuits for the male cast. The ramp is lined with lighting that can give this a carnival subtext designed by Lighting master Christopher Akerlind. Dave Maier fight scenes spread throughout the Cal Shakes space and they are wonderful ballet violence.

This impressive evening inside the “dream’ of Nilo Cruz and Pedro Calderon, is not to be missed. It runs through August 2, at Cal Shakes, and will surely engage you in one of the more exciting stage experiences this summer in the Bay Area.

California Shakespeare Theater Presents

Life Is a Dream

By Pedro Calderón de la Barca. Adapted by Nilo Cruz,

Directed by Loretta Greco.

July 8 - Aug. 2.

California Shakespeare Theater,

100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda.

One hour, 40 minutes.

$20-$72. (510) 548-9666.

Tickets at

Photos by Kevin Berne

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