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Life is a Dream

Boise State stages classic golden age play


Many people say good theater is in the details, that the way an actor cradles his wine glass reveals volumes about his character's internal state. Boise State professor Ann Hoste is used to paying attention to details, as a teacher, costume designer and theater director. Whether it's a zipper placed just so on a dress or a pregnant moment between two actors imploding with venom, Hoste knows that well-crafted details, beats and moments are the foundation of a captivating production.

Hoste worked on an original adaptation of the classic Spanish Golden Age play Life is a Dream for months. The play, written by Calderón de la Barca circa 1636, has been translated and adapted countless times. Over the summer, using five of her favorite adaptations, Hoste eliminated one character, added a short scene, rearranged a few scenes, expanded a few relationships, simplified the poetic language (but retained the iambic pentameter) and focused on the essentials of the play. Audiences will thank her for this paring process; her adaptation runs 90 minutes where many last three hours.

"Life is a Dream has a fairytale quality. It's a story that seems simple on the surface that has very deep truths," Hoste says. She likes the way some of the themes and questions--how do we distinguish between dreams and reality, destiny and free will--are analogous to theater. In theater, you always deal with what is real and what is not real. "A director must constantly grapple with knowing how far to go to convince an audience that what they are witnessing is 'real' and how much to allow the audience's imaginations to take over," Hoste explains.

To help inform Hoste's production, the play's dramaturg, Leslie Durham heavily researched the play--scouring playwright biographies, trends in critical opinion, historical staging as well as reviews of contemporary productions--to get a grasp of what has or has not worked in the past. Durham says Hoste's vision has been strong and that her adaptation is heavily centered on the cosmic and elemental themes of the play. This is evident in both the set--a circular (dare I say celestial) stage with astrological charts painted on it and an emphasis on certain philosophical queries in the dialogue: "What is life? Illusion? Passion? A Fairy Tale? A riddle?" and "Is man the master of his fate?"

At the outset of the play, Rosaura (Jessika Boyll) wanders through the forest furious with her love Astolfo (Roger Venable) and determined to avenge her honor after Astolfo suddenly broken off their engagement. Rosaura stumbles upon an agonized prisoner named Segismund (Matt Melton) and his benevolent guard, Clotaldo. Segismund has been in chains since he was a baby because his father, King Basilio (the Great) of Poland, was convinced that the horoscope predicting Segismund's destiny to bring down the kingdom was too dangerous to ignore.

From there, the play launches into an exploration of what we can and cannot control, with Segismund eventually being drugged and released to meet his father. A debate ensues over whether Segismund is fit to succeed his father given his brash and bitter nature. Along the play's progression, there lie clever twists of fate, amorous encounters, tender reunions and changed hearts.

As is often true of Boise State productions, the acting among the principal players is strong. Jessika Boyll, just coming off a year of training with Idaho Shakespeare Festival and New Heritage Theatre, has a few moments of overacting but is generally right on the mark and delightfully impish in her role as the bold Rosaura. Ian Mundorff's middle-aged King Basilio is a stretch, but he exudes a fitting combination of arrogance tempered with humility. And Melton's Segismund has just enough humanity to make his barbarity palatable.

One of the most impressive elements of the production is the use of stage fighting, which keeps the energy up and preys on that fairytale thread of good triumphing over evil. At one point, there are four separate fights in each corner of the theater, each executed without a hint of hesitation.

Life is a Dream will vanish in a mere two weeks. Hoste's brainchild is worth seeing; all the questions surfacing in her accessible adaptation merit discussion--or better yet, a shake of the 'ole Magic 8 Ball.

Life is a Dream by Calderón de la Barca, directed by Ann Hoste

October 5-9, 7:30 p.m.; October 9-10, 2 p.m.

$10 general; $9 non-Boise State students, FREE for seniors, alumni, full-time students, faculty and staff

Boise State Stage II, Morrison Center, Boise State campus

Tickets at Select-a-Seat.