Last year I started a series of articles (I said) that would explore characters I have been in plays, or seen in plays, and how I do or don’t relate to them. In my first edition, I wrote about Norbert Garstecki from The Great American Trailer Park Musical. Today, I write about King Basillio from “Sueno.” “Sueno” is an modern adaption of Pedro Calderon de la Barca’s play “La Vida es Sueno” by playwright Jose Rivera. It’s interesting to note that both plays involve a father (me in both cases) who must face decisions (poor ones) that he made in the past. In both places, those choices come back and may (or may not) end in his death. It’s also amusing to note that the same actor played my son in both plays.
King Basillio is king of a very old, and feudal Spain. He is a man who feels the duty to his country so strongly, that he’s willing to sacrifice himself and his family to save it. Basillio is a big believer in astrology and numerology, so when his astrologers bring him word that his son will be born a monster, and will destroy him, his kingdom ,and everything that this king has held dear, he freaks out. On the day his wife is giving birth, there is an eclipse and all kinds of chaos in the heavens. Basillio struggles with uncertainty until he is presented, simultaneously, his new born son and the news that his wife is dead…she died giving birth to the son who is predicted to destroy his kingdom. The King freaks out. He orders the new baby, Segismundo, to be locked away in a hidden tower where no one will ever find him. Basillio’s advisor, Clotaldo, is given charge of ensuring the boy is fed, but that he never sees a human face. Anyone who gets close to where Prince Segismundo is incarcerated, it to be immediately put to death.
Flash forward twenty five years. Segismundo has been locked away, never seeing a real human, but rather humanoid forms (masked and robed people) and has been taught language and the Bible by Clotaldo. Basillio has become a little crazy, and paraniod. He’s spent the time studying stars and numbers and fearing that his son will get out. But the King must have an heir, and he’s getting old. There are those who are plotting to try and take the throne. Basillio knows this, but he’s also become less sure about his decision to lock his only heir up. He devises a plan to drug Segismundo, bring him to the palace, tell him everything, and then see if he is the animal that was predicted or if he can be reasoned with and act like a King should. Well, suffice to say that if Segismundo was regal and kind and gentile, there wouldn’t be much of a play.
Sueno is a story about many things, love, fear, betrayal, redemption, and self-fulfilling prophecies. King Basillio feared what was predicted. To try and stop it, he took drastic measures. Rather than prevent the prophesied disaster, he actually causes it to happen. Without saying too much, the king sees all of his worst nightmares come true, and ultimately faces his own death at the hands of his son.
As I sit here writing, I am still moved to tears from that play. Even though it’s six months past, the message and the feeling of being Basillio still sit deep and fresh within me. I can relate to Basillio, perhaps more than I realized until now. I don’t have a kingdom or an empire under my care, but I do have people around me for whom I care. I do not have children, but I’ve had stepchildren and step-grandchildren. I can imagine how I would feel if they came in and started killing and destroying everything and everyone I know.
One area I can totally relate, is Basillio’s sense of duty and honor. He cares deeply for those around him and for his county. He’s willing to do what it takes to save them and protect them, even at his own expense. I hate knowing someone around me is hurting. I grieve when I cannot do anything to help alieve suffering that I see. I’ll give of my time and energy to my own downfall. People are important to me, all people.
Another area I can relate to Basillio is his level of fear. He is convinced things will happen, so he takes steps to prevent it, and causes everything he feared to happen. My dad died when I was young; we buried him on his 34th birthday. I was convinced I was going to end up the same. I’ll say that I beat that one and am much older than 34, but I almost did end up dead. There are other things that I have faced in my life that I have lived in fear of happening. In the last month I have had to stand up and face all of those that I have previously faced. I have found in my life, as Basillio found in his, that the things you fear will come and make you face them one day. The best thing is to let the fear go, or (if you can’t let it go) go and stand face-to-face with it. I have been forced to stand up and face my fears, and now I can say that they don’t have power over me.
All of us have a Basillio inside of us. We can learn from this example that fearing something will cause it to happen….I didn’t believe it, but I do now because I’ve experienced it. I encourage everyone else to do the same. Yes, it’s scary, and tough, and may be a miserable experience as you go through it. I can say that it’s not as bad as I feared it would be.
If you ever have a chance to see the play, I encourage you to do so. Meanwhile, embrace the fear before it swallows you.