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Life Is a Dream Pedro Calderón's 1635 classic Life Is a Dream is the ultimate nature vs. nurture play. With a fresh translation from playwright Nilo Cruz (Anna in the Tropics) and a sprightly production, there's plenty of life in this antique chestnut from Spain's Golden Age. The multiple plots are bold and vivid, but it's Calderón's solidly visual language that sets him next to Shakespeare for sheer poetry in motion. Cruz keeps him down to earth somewhat, modernizing a lot of the high-soaring passages and condensing some of its heavy weight, but he always allows those crystalline Calderón images to float front and center. Imprisoned since birth to forestall the dire prophecy his horoscope predicted, Prince Segismundo (David Wald) is brought back to the palace by his guilt-ridden father (Steve Garfinkel). If he proves wise and good, the prince will reign; if he behaves like the monster his father believes him to be, he will return to his nightmarish prison. In crisp, short scenes, Calderón laces this psychologically cogent thriller with the bracing idea of free will. Can man overcome his fate? Must the beast inside always win against our better angels? Then he ladles on the intriguing notion that if life is but a dream, what is real? And how can one tell the difference? Into the heady mix, Calderón throws in a vengeance subplot and a Borscht Belt comic in wise-ass servant Clarin (Philip Hays). Wald makes a terrifically sympathetic prince, whether howling at his fate or opening up to the beauties of Estrella (Crystal O'Brien). "What must the sun do after you rise from your bed," he raves Romeo-like upon seeing her. Beth Lazarou, usually seen singing dramatically on other stages around town, creates a fierce, proud princess in Rosaura — she looks at ease carrying her sword as would Joan of Arc. Garkinkel shows the paternal warmth beneath the king's Lear exterior, and Justin O'Brien gives imperious Astolfo a sharp edge of ego. There are a few moments when rage and braying get the upper hand and threaten to swamp the good ship Calderón, but director Pablo Bracho steadies the boat immediately. If life is a dream, as Calderón so ably implies, then Main Street Theater's exceedingly minimal production — sweatshirts and everyday wear overlaid with period trappings — has a dream logic all its own. It's impossible to make Calderón up-to-date; his ornate language won't allow it. But his particular message to live life fully and do your best in the living of it is a fit lesson for any age. Through October 21. Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Blvd., 713-524-6706. — DLG

Missionary Position Theater LaB brings playwright/actor Steven Fales to Houston with his one-man show, Missionary Position, the second in his trilogy of autobiographical plays, after the sold-out success of Confessions of a Mormon Boy earlier this year. Theater LaB is perfect for the intimacy of this production — it's like being in a living room while being regaled with anecdotes by a guest who is attractive, fit, charming, vivacious, can deliver a punch line, sings well and moves like a dancer. Fales enters with a large trunk in tow, from which props emerge as needed. Some are photographs, some memorabilia, centering on Fales's two years as a missionary in Portugal for the Mormon Church. The first play covered dramatic events, including sexual awakenings, marriage and its failure, attempts at reparative therapy, excommunication, becoming a high-priced call-boy, and addiction to and recovery from crystal meth. This work is simpler but remains a compelling narrative, including the humorous discovery of masturbation. The cement binding the two together is Fales's struggle with homosexuality while he's active in a religious organization which condemns it as anathema. This holds our interest for a swiftly paced, intermission-less hundred minutes, as we hear the struggle to find and identify oneself, to reconcile conflicting claims on identity. While the telling is amusing and sprightly, the situation so blithely related contains the seeds of a heartbreaking dilemma. Fales was forced to ask himself: "Are you going to believe these towering figures of authority, or your lying gonads?" It took him a while to find the answer. Bitterness and confusion have been softened, and replaced by the objectivity and amusement of maturity. Fales is now 42, and these events took place over two decades ago, but the silver peal of truth still rings true. Through October 21. 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516. — JJT

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