Sunday, April 22, 2018

Review: A Classically Fun Story of Doing the Right Thing

By Ed Malin

Spicy Witch Productions (Rebecca Weiss, Artistic Director), a feminist theater company, is presenting a new translation of a classic play (Life Is But A Dream by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, translated by Shawn Morgenlander) and a new play on similar themes (Merrily Merrily by Iris Dauterman)
I had the pleasure of seeing Life Is But A Dream, the 17th Century Spanish play joyously brought to life by director Anaïs Koivisto. How to make this play "feminist"?  For starters, there is already a young woman disguised as a man. This production changes a King into a Queen and casts a non-binary actor as the charming jester, makes the tale of violent jockeying for power even funnier, and vive la difference.  Rosaura (Isabelle Russo) is headed towards a castle in Poland, stoked to right an unspecified wrong, when she meets the whimsical Clarion (Dani Martineck). Together they stumble upon a castle in the depths of whose dungeon wails the enchained Sigmund (Stephen Zuccaro). Why is he there, the newcomers ask. Because I was born, says he. That's actually close to the truth, as Queen Clorilene (Dominique Jeanmarie) recounts: Sigmund is heir to the throne of Poland but a prophecy predicts he will be a royal pain in the ass, should be ever be crowned. Yet, after seeing the squabble between Estella (Katie Rose Krueger) and Astolfo (Patrick Chang), next-in-line noble cousins who consider getting married so they can reign together, the Queen decides it's worth taking Sigmund out of the bullpen. If he is a shoddy monarch, they will give him the royal flush, put him back in the basement, and tell him he imagined it all. Thus is the title elucidated. Except, from a sight of Rosaura's rapier, Sigmund's jailer Clotaldo (Nick Bombicino) deduces Rosaura's secret identity and the part he will play in her future.
The plot doesn't really need to be complicated, and, like a Spicy Witch getting hold of a Calderón, it comes off quite enchanting.  Like Sigmund himself, it quickly becomes a no-brainer that the vicious young man must needs be incarcerated. Within a minute of his elevation, he throws a servant out the window (distant shrieks and thuds relay this to the audience).  Yet, going back to no-brainers, the Slavic peasants decide (years before Dostoyevsky) that their idiot should be in charge. The Queen takes arms against a sea of peasants and by opposing them nearly ends herself. And yet, through some mysterious revelations, the parties come to an accord and happiness and a new Golden Age (Spain was in need of one at that point) are proclaimed. The only character to die is handsome jester Clarion, perhaps as a quick note of thanks to Shakespeare.
Spicy Witch took the ultimate play about free will and made it fresh and delightful.  Shawn Morgenlander's translation is edgy, full of life, in iambic pentameter and full color.  On Caitlyn Barrett's colorful set wherein Spain imagined the luxuries of medieval Poland, in the round, the action proceeds at a brisk clip for 90 minutes.  Under Anaïs Koivisto's direction, the stakes are always high and human nature is put under the microscope.  Swashbuckling Isabelle Russo as Rosauro and Dani Martineck as sarcastic Clarion make an adrenaline-fueled team.  Stephen Zuccaro makes the imprisoned Sigmund's rages quite believable and sympathetic.  Veronique Jeanmarie gives Queen Clorilene the effortlessly haughty royal unconcern which Calderón seems to have opposed.  Patrick Chang's scheming Astolfo and Katie Rose Krueger's poetic Estella are adept at finding opportunity in a world of shifting allegiances. Nick Bombicino plays Clotaldo as a man of honor who won't stop until he has made amends for his past.   Noelle Quanci's costumes are radiant and also easy to fight and run in. Yi-Chung Chen's lighting design helps with the central themes about dreams.  Scene changes are marked by the orbit of a mini earth around a glowing sun. Hats and diadems off to Cristina Ramos for her energized fight choreography.