Mainstage Hearts God, Eucharist


Published: December 13, 2007

At Fordham College Lincoln Center, it’s often easy to forget about our Jesuitness, what with all of us liberal nihilists running rampant. Interestingly enough, the latest reminder that our school is BFFs with God comes to us from our theater department, the normally accepted breeding ground for the aforementioned nihilists, in the form of “Life is a Dream.”

The play is a 370-year-old Spanish autosacramental written by Calderón de la Barca, a playwright well-known for his comedias and not quite as well-known for attending a Jesuit college, the Colegio Imperial de Madrid. Given this education and his eventual turn from playwriting to priesthood, it’s no big surprise that “Life is a Dream” attempts to retell the story of creation as told in the book of Genesis; the Christian equivalent of presenting a reworking of “Romeo and Juliet.” And apparently, at least according to the vision of director George Drance, S.J., this version of the creation of the universe looked an awful lot like the last scene of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” All the elements of the famous alien encounter were present: similarly haunting music, an ominous, light mist and painfully bright lights. In the classic movie, these techniques work perfectly to simulate an alien spacecraft. As a live representation of the creation of all living things, however, they seem a bit silly. I don’t know what the start of the world looked like, but I have a feeling it wasn’t like this.

Then, as the world onstage developed, the actors were forced to pantomime the plants and animals put there by the Creator, as well as the elements earth, fire, wind and water; an act that was entirely as goofy and awkward as one might imagine. It looked like a stereotypical Acting 101 class that you might see on “Saved by the Bell” or any other such sitcom mocking those wacky thespians. In fact, the entire play sort of felt like this; like it was put together by people who have learned about theater from that one episode of “Boy Meets World” where they perform Shakespeare. For a better idea of how this actually looked, ask the nearest person to the right to now act like a fish or bird or river. See what he or she just did? That’s what the actors did. This is not to say, however, that the acting outside of the animal impersonations was poor. Far from it. Vincent Wagner portrayed Man’s transformation from an innocent newborn to ego-driven king convincingly and subtly, while Debra Morris and William Henry Callahan played Understanding and Free Will with a dynamic reminiscent of the good and bad angels found in “Tom and Jerry” cartoons. Then there were Shadow and the Prince of Darkness, played by Jason Nicolas de Beer and Neal Beckman, respectively. These two created a formidable comedy duo eerily similar to the reoccurring “Kids in the Hall” characters Simon and Hecubus (just about the highest praise I can give anybody).

As you can probably tell, I don’t know anything about theater, as my only reference points come from the slew of television shows and movies I’ve inundated myself with. So do I know who is responsible for all of the shortcomings I’ve mentioned? No, but my best guess is the playwright himself, whose play, understandably, doesn’t hold up after more than 350 years. Or maybe all of these shortcomings are actually longcomings and this is just how plays are designed and carried out. I don’t know. Everything I’ve learned about theater I learned from “Boy Meets World.”