Lane Gaudet per­forms the lead in “Life is a Dream.” | Courtesy Michael Beyer

Last night in Markel Audi­torium, the Tower Players per­formed the first show of the season, Pedro Calderon de la Barca’s Spanish comedy “Life is a Dream.”

When I sat down in the dark­ening audi­torium to watch the dress rehearsal per­for­mance of “Life is a Dream,” a plummy purple glow lit up a zodiac pattern on the center of the black stage and ethereal choral music started to play. I propped my feet up on the chair in front of me and settled in for my first expe­rience with Calderon de la Barca’s Golden Age classic. The lights paled to gold, and the first two per­formers stormed the stage from the aisles. The comedic drama that ensued kept me engaged, sur­prised, and unsure of whether what was hap­pening on stage was sup­posed to provoke laughter or gasps. I left the theater two hours later with the surreal events and col­orful images of the play clinging like cobwebs to my thoughts as I blinked my eyes in the lobby lights.

The play follows Segis­mundo, the prince of Poland, who was born under a prophecy of destruction. In an attempt to thwart destiny, his father, King Basilio, locks him away in a tower until he is grown up, and brings him back to the kingdom as a test to see if a man’s deci­sions can alter the course of fate. Having had no social influ­ences beside his buf­foonish tutor Clotaldo, Prince Segis­mundo takes to his new liberty like a beast released from a cage. Incensed by the injustice of his lonely life and eager to satisfy the tyran­nical desires his chains once kept secured, Segis­mundo uses physical vio­lence to overcome every obstacle that stands between himself and grat­i­fi­cation. A frus­trated King Basilio pulls the plug on his failed exper­iment when his wayward son tries to throw a servant from a window. He has Segis­mundo drugged and sent back to the tower where he will wake to find his glo­rious royalty dis­solved while he slept. Segismundo’s ever-changing reality forces him to con­tem­plate the under­lying meaning to be found in a dream-like exis­tence.

Director James Brandon, pro­fessor of art and theatre, accen­tuates the humor of the play with a cast of active and diverse per­son­al­ities who fill out the script with non-verbal comic details. It’s the sim­plest moments that con­tribute to the play’s overall hilarity, like when Segis­mundo first finds himself enrobed in court and can’t seem to accustom himself to his royal gar­ments. With his sword strapped awk­wardly to his hip, he nearly whacks the servant on his left with the side of his blade whenever he turns.

The leading man, senior Lane Gaudet, brings a phys­i­cality to the stage that cap­tures both the humor of Segismundo’s manic beast­liness and the pity of his con­fused humanity. He howls like a beast, sprawls like a teenage boy, and crouches in chains like a pen­itent sinner. Whether he is lying spread-eagle on the courtroom floor, picking up a servant to hurl her out a window, or curling up in a fetal crunch, cow­ering from the dream­scape of his con­fused life, Gaudet expresses an ease on stage that per­fectly encap­su­lates the unself­con­scious wildness of Prince Segis­mundo. Gaudet’s physical energy is well suited to the phys­i­cality of a play rife with duels, battles, and slap­stick humor.

The only freshman with a leading role in the play is Jon Syren, whose por­trayal of King Basilio drives home the theme of man’s frus­tration against the powers of fate. Syren offers an authentic per­for­mance, tackling a hefty load of lines with ease and con­viction.

Other stu­dents whose talents feature in “Life is a Dream” include senior Jessica Mac­Farlane as the fiery Princess Estrella, and senior Katie Buursma as the jilted Rosaura, out for revenge on her ex-lover obse­quious Astolfo, played by Trenton Olds. The cast as a whole plays up the work’s playful charm, each sup­porting char­acter lending indi­vid­u­ality and humor to the ensemble.

Dra­matic mono­logues fre­quently inter­rupted the comic action of the play. Dreamy purple lighting offsets these con­tem­plative moments while all the char­acters except the speaker pause in time. These surreal inter­ludes punc­tuate philo­soph­i­cally trou­bling moments in the plot as a character’s internal con­sciousness imposes itself on the external events of the story. The aes­thetic shift between the garish gold lighting of the “real time” play action and the plum haze the internal dia­logues leave the audience with a layered impression of reality in the play.

The pro­duction opened Wednesday, Oct. 3, and per­for­mances will con­tinue Oct. 4 – 6 at 7:30 p.m. with a Sat­urday matinee at 2:00 p.m.

It charms the audience with winning student per­for­mances, engaging action sequences, and artful comic relief. With the help of a dynamic cast, col­orful sets and cos­tumes, and dreamy lighting, Brandon cap­tures the humor of Calderon’s comedy without losing the more serious ele­ments of the drama.