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Life is But a Dream

By Pedro Calderón de la Barca; Translated by Shawn Morgenlander; Directed by Anaïs Koivisto
Produced by Spicy Witch Productions

Off Off Broadway, Classic
Ran through 4.14.18
Flamboyán Theater at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street

by Sarah Weber on 4.14.18

Life is but a Dream Patrick Chang, Katie Rose Keuger, Veronique Jeanmarie, and Stephen Zuccaro in Life is but a Dream.

A playful English-language translation of Pedro Calderón de la Barca's famous La vida es sueño.

Every season, the all-female run company Spicy Witch Productions (SWP) graces the Lower East Side with two unabashedly feminist productions, running in repertory. They invite a female-identifying or non-binary playwright to adapt a classic, and this spring’s focus is the Spanish Golden Age play La vida es sueño by Pedro Calderón de la Barca. While you can also see the contemporary play inspired by Calderón, Iris Dauterman's Merrily, Merrily, if you want to experience the original text then Shawn Morgenlander’s English language translation Life is But a Dream is guaranteed to deliver.

This seventeenth-century play is set in Poland, and its central figure is the vengeful Sigmund (Stephen Zuccaro). Unbeknownst to him, or the rest of the country for that matter, Sigmund is a prince. But he has spent his entire life isolated in a prison tower because his mother, Queen Clorilene (Veronique Jeanmarie), believes wholeheartedly in a prophesy that Sigmund will overthrow her and wreak havoc. The only other person who knows of this secret is Sigmund’s warden Clotaldo (Nick Bombicino). However, business-as-usual turns tupsy-turvy when Clorilene not only decides to publicly announce Sigmund’s existence, but to bring him home to see if he is capable of being a good prince. Clorilene and Clotaldo plan to drug Sigmund so that he wakes up in the palace—this way, should he grow too violent, they can simply drug him again, return him to the prison tower, and convince him that the palace was but a dream.

This is mightily inconvenient for the queen’s nephew and niece, Astolfo and Estella (Patrick Chang and Katie Rose Kreuger respectively). The two had made a pact to marry, as that would make them successors to the throne. Adding to the chaos is the introduction of Rosaura (played wonderfully by Isabelle Russo); disguised as a man, she comes to Poland with the jester Clarion (Dani Martineck) in order to exact revenge on her former lover, Astolfo. She even brings a sword passed down from her mother in order to execute the deed, but revenge takes a detour when Clotaldo recognizes the sword and believes Rosaura to be his son. Between the false identities, a queen’s superstitions, a son’s resentment, and a power thirsty family, will Poland’s royal court ever find normalcy?

In creating this translation, Morgenlander has added her own humor and sense of whimsy to Calderón’s story, with delightful results. Life is But a Dream is all at once dramatic, playful, and spellbinding while maintaining Calderón’s poetic language. All of the design elements also work wonderfully together, especially Noelle Quanci’s beautiful costumes and Megan McQueeney’s props, which range from playful to nostalgic to celestial. Throughout the production the actors trade off holding a kind of time piece wrapped in fairy lights, which director Anaïs Koivisto cleverly uses during transitions both to show the passage of time and to guide the audience’s focus while the set changes.

There’s a pivotal moment between Zucccaro and Bombicino when Sigmund recounts to Clotaldo the “dream” he had of being a prince, and the wonderful life he had, and the terrible ways he treated the people around him. Of all the predictable ways Bombicino could respond, with a mean or smug tone, he simply stands before Zuccaro in coolly paternal disappointment and says, “Good deeds can take you far…even in dreams.” All in all, Life is But a Dream is a refreshing take on an important classic. And what a perfect cast and creative team to bring this unique take on the story to life. Having seen their work develop over the past few years, I'm happy to say this is SWP's strongest season so far.

(Life is But a Dream played at the Flamboyán Theater, 107 Suffolk Street, through April 14., 2018. Running time was 90 minutes. Performances were 4/7 at 8, 4/8 at 2, 4/11 at 8, 4/13 at 8, and 4/14 at 2. Tickets were $20. For more information visit 

Life is But a Dream is by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, translated by Shawn Morgenlander. Directed by Anaïs Koivisto. Scenic Design by Caitlynn Barrett. Composition by Nick Bombicino. Lighting Design by Yi-Chung Chen. Sound Design by Carsen Jewell Joenk. Props Design by Megan McQueeney. Costume Design by Noelle Quanci. Fight Choreography by Cristina Ramos. Stage Manager was Frances Swanson.

The cast was Nick Bombicino, Patrick Chang, Veronique Jeanmarie, Katie Rose Kreuger, Dani Martineck, Isabelle Russo, and Stephen Zuccaro.