Cal Shakes stages Spanish classic

California Shakespeare Theater ventures into the Spanish classics with Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s 17th century “Life Is a Dream,” translated and adapted by Nilo Cruz.

Taking place in an unnamed country, the convoluted plot focuses on Prince Segismundo (Sean San José), who has been isolated and imprisoned since birth because his father, King Basilio (Adrian Roberts), believes a prophecy that his son would do great harm to his kingdom.

Segismundo’s cousins, Estrella (Tristan Cunningham) and Astolfo (Amir Abdullah), hope to succeed Basilio to the throne.

Testing the prophecy, Basilio orders his son’s jailer, Clotaldo (Julian López-Morillas), to drug him and take him to the palace. When he comes to, Segismundo is so enraged by what his father had done that he behaves like a monster, leading Basilio to have him drugged and imprisoned again. Upon awakening, he is told that his previous experience was all a dream.

Also figuring into the story is Rosaura (Sarah Nina Hayon), seeking revenge against Astolfo for wronging her, and her servant, Clarin (Jomar Tagatac). Romantic attraction and rebellion are involved, too.

Productions of the play elsewhere have run more than two hours with one intermission. This version runs 100 minutes without intermission. The program incorrectly says there’s one intermission.

Even this slimmed down version seems padded in places with numerous iterations of Segismundo’s pondering whether he’s really experiencing a dream. This effect is heightened because there’s little variation inSan José’s speech patterns, weakening his impact.

Directed by Loretta Greco, the rest of the cast is solid, though, especially the two women along with Abdullah as Astolfo, López-Morillas as the jailer and Roberts as the king. Tagatac deserves special mention as Clarin, a traditional Fool’s role.

The set is by Andrew Boyce with lighting by Christopher Akerlind and costumes by Alex Jaeger. Fight direction is by Dave Maier.

Music and sound by Cliff Caruthers can become intrusive. The sound for the battle scene is anachronistic: Helicopters and jets are heard overhead while the onstage combatants wield swords.

Despite some drawbacks, the production is mostly enjoyable.

“Life Is a Dream” runs through Aug. 2 at Bruns Memorial Amphitheater, 100 California Shakespeare Way (Wilder Road exit off Hwy. 24), Orinda. For tickets and information, call (510) 548-9666 or visit