A fate worse than death

Ten Thousand Things production thrusts audiences into existential meditation.

by Grace Gouker

What: âÄúLife is a DreamâÄù

When: Oct. 22 âÄì Oct. 30

Where: Open Book

Cost: $25


ItâÄôs been almost 400 years since it was written. Pedro Calderón de la Barca, the so-called Shakespeare of Spain, painstakingly extracted from a fictional Spanish monarchy the struggle between free will and fate, with the winner of this existential battle up to the audience by the end.

âÄúLa vida es sueñoâÄù âÄî or âÄúLife is a DreamâÄù in English âÄî takes its audience on a winding, conscience-bending journey through the life of Segismundo, a prince of Spain. Namir Smallwood plays the doomed royal in the theater production.

 âÄúHeâÄôs been deemed a monster, but heâÄôs very human still. It takes a lot for him to be gentle and to be a real person. To watch the journey and go through the journey is very taxing,âÄù Smallwood said.

Put in prison for the prediction that he will become a tyrant in his future position as king, Segismundo drifts between waking life and dreams in his bleak surroundings. The individual is deconstructed and replaced by a most base being, operating only for the sake of operating âÄî an epitomized homo sacer in the flesh.

Eventually, the king âÄî SegismundoâÄôs father âÄî decides that heâÄôs been too harsh on his son. In an attempt to retract his presumption of SegismundoâÄôs character, the king releases him from prison for the first time.

The princeâÄôs fate that was predicted for him when he was a child comes true.

âÄúSegismundo attacks [the first woman he sees] with animal impulse,âÄù Smallwood said. âÄúBut he has this animal nature in him that has been forced on him by his captors since he was young. What do they expect?âÄù

The cast and crew have visited real prisons to perform âÄúLifeâÄôs a Dream,âÄù with reactions consisting almost entirely of complete and utter emulation.

âÄú[The prison audiences]have been awesome, because they totally get it. TheyâÄôve had to deal with the same things,âÄù Smallwood said.

A man repeatedly called an averted tyrant and a destroyer of the kingdom will soon come to think of himself as such. The man capable of destroying these bindings will be the better for knowing what heâÄôs deflected.

âÄúAs you live your life, youâÄôre not responsible, per se, for the cards you were dealt,âÄù Smallwood said. âÄúYou have to overcome what people have said about you. Do you spin those words on their head, or do you stick to them?âÄù

De la Barca once said, âÄúLife is a dream from which only death awakens us.âÄù One would hope that their fortunes and fates were decided by themselves to avoid that barren dream state to which he