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ISSUE 121 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/22/2008

Interim play blends dream and reality

By Nicole Smith
Contributing Writer

Friday, February 22, 2008

St. Olaf Theater performed Pedro Calderon de la Barca's "Life is a Dream" February 8-10 and 14-16.

Directed by Jeanne Willcoxon, the cast and crew presented a powerful presentation on reality and its flexibility.

Calderon de la Barca's play, c. 1630, focuses on themes of religion, philosophy, monarchy and succession. However, there was a much deeper exploration of the human psyche in Willcoxon's production. Through the set, lighting and costumes Willcoxon directed the audience's attention to the intangibility of our own lives.

The plot and themes are intrinsically heavy and complicated, but Willcoxon didn't mind: "I want to leave the audience with a lot of questions, not a lot of answers. If I can get people thinking, I'm really happy."

The play challenges its viewers to seriously consider the flexibility of reality, what is known and our actions. The play's main question is whether or not people posses free will: "Calderon is showing us no," Willcoxon said. "He wanted to show people that they could act but not escape fate."

Willcoxon feels that the questions the play evoked in seventeenth-century Spain are still applicable today. For example, inspired by the notion that appearance doesn't determine reality, Willcoxon casted a woman as Segismundo. "The appearance of gender is not necessarily the truth," Willcoxon said.

Indeed, in the lobby guests were immediately forced to determine if things were really as they seemed. A floating tube of fabric seemed to blow in the wind from the door, but actually sheathed a person - who surprised more than one visitor.

Willcoxon explained the floating fabric shows that "reality changes, it's not stable." The sets and lighting highlight the fluidity of Calderon's subject. "I wanted the set to transform and change.That's why lighting was so important, because it transforms the set and signifies that the moment is different from reality," Willcoxon said. "I wanted the set as fluid as possible so we know we're not in a realistic historical drama. I wanted separation."

Not only were the set and lighting instrumental, all the music in the performance was composed for the play. There were several different disciplines utilized for the play, including the philosophy and Spanish departments.

Willcoxon was very happy to lead the Interim performance: "It's a chance to give students an opportunity to experience what its like to be in real theater," Willcoxon said. The cast functioned like a professional company.

The performance's most important aspect by far was its dedication to the memory of Katherine Ann Olson '06. Olson read "Life is a Dream" while she studied here and was very enthusiastic about theater and Spanish.

"Her family was able to come," Willcoxon said. "We were all happy to do this as something that combined her interests and something we think she would have really enjoyed."

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