La Vida es Sueño: A Lesson on Modernizing a Classic

For many people who aren't used to reading plays written in the 1600s, watching them onstage might sound like a mind-numbing, boring, scholarly task. But Diego Noguera’s adaptation of La Vida es Sueño satisfies literature gurus, those who consider “Twilight” a masterpiece of English literature and everyone in between who enjoys feeling educated and cultured.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Carla Pastén

La Vida es Sueño ("Life is a Dream") is considered a classic, with ageless motifs of fate, tyranny, free will, love and father-son relationships, among others. While deciding what to direct, the play’s timelessness stirred something inside Diego Noguera, who kept coming back to it.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Carla Pastén

The most obvious adaptation in Diego Noguera’s take on this Spanish classic by Pedro Calderón de la Barca is the separation of the three parts into different shows: Part One was presented in October of last year, Part Two debuted July 9 in Teatro Camino (see photos), and Part Three will be presented later in the year in Santiago's Teatro Municipal.

The second part of the play, running until July 26 at Teatro Camino, is the most violent and climactic of the three. Prince Segismundo is let out of his tower by his father King Basilio, who feared his son would be raised a tyrannical heir and allowed to rule as the leader of Poland.

The selective but dominant use of the color red in the characters’ attire symbolizes this violence. Costumes don’t reflect the typical dress of the 1600s in Poland; Noguera explains that the use of neutral, contemporary pieces of clothing doesn’t attach the play to a certain place or time. This adds to the timelessness of the piece and helps the audience relate to the characters.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Carla Pastén

Even though the text in its old Spanish was untouched, once in a while actors present poems and dialogues written specifically for the play by Chilean poet and playwright Pablo Paredes. The actors use their own Chilean accents to give their dialogues, though the play was written in Spain and takes place in Poland. This interaction between modern and old Spanish is vital for Noguera because the musicality of the original text stands out to him as a primordial element of the play. A piano, a trombone and unseen synthesizer create musical sound effects, which add to the text's natural musicality.

The theater’s setup allows for other contemporary theatrical additions. Teatro Camino’s stage is a covered circular theater where the audience is part of the stage as they sit on one end of the circle and the actors perform on the other. The use of a screen hanging from a balcony and another closer to the ground further modernizes the play.

These screens project videos of animals in black and white produced by José Luis Torres Leiva, which represent the mismatch between animals and humans, Noguera explains; furthermore, Segismundo tells his father he is half beast, half human and the repetition of the word “fiera” (beast) to denote Segismundo is prevalent throughout the play. Most of the poems by Paredes are performed behind the screens. When the actors deliver their lines, their voices create a black spot on the screen, which interrupt the image and allow the audience to see their faces more clearly.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Carla Pastén

As if modernizing a classic like La Vida es Sueño while simultaneously maintaining the original language wasn’t enough of a challenge for Noguera, he takes the opportunity to direct his well-known and highly respected father Hector Noguera, who has performed the original La Vida es Sueño hundreds of times. When answering the question that countless of people have asked--“What was it like to direct your father?”--Diego Noguera confessed it was like seeing your mother cry for the first time: he realized his father was human.

Hector Noguera´s performance is akin to his popularity among Chileans, but the other actors fair just as well. The young actors stay in character throughout the play and accomplish the daunting task of not over-acting a dramatic play. Their masterful performances make a two-hour play seem like half the time, and encourage the spectators to watch the play’s third and final part to see what happens to wretched Segismundo; there is no doubt that the third part will be just as masterful and innovative as the one being performed at Teatro Camino on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday until July 26.

La Vida es Sueño, segunda jornada: El Sueño de la Libertad
July 9 to 26, 2009
Thursday and Friday, 21:00; Saturday and Sunday, 20:00
General: CP$5,000. Students and Seniors: CP$3,000.
Popular Thursdays: CP$2,000
Teatro Camino
Antupirén 9400
Peñalolén. Comunidad Ecológica de Peñalolén
Santiago, Chile

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