Ermine Problem: Jorgensen’s King Basilio is a rat to his son.

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Actor Alexander Strain (fresh off a snarling star-turn as Caligula at Washington Shakespeare Company last fall) directs this 17th-century comedy of manners and metaphysics with a wry and generous wit. Not that Calderón’s classic tale needs a lot of help in the laughs department, necessarily. It comes pre-installed with the full Baroque Comedy options package, complete with cross-dressing, woo-pitching, secret paternity, elaborate ruses, and even one instance of servant defenestration, which is always good for a yuk. Given the level of the material and the talent onstage and off, funny’s pretty much a lock; what Strain and his actors bring to the table, however, is fun. And a hell of a lot of it. It’s not that they’re winking at us, thank God, it’s just that the performances exude a sense of play that catches the audience up. You can sort of see how much Jim Jorgensen, for example, is enjoying his turn as the dottily imperious King Basilio, but it doesn’t matter because you’re enjoying it even more. (Seriously, the guy’s a stitch.) Maggie Glauber, who’s had lots of practice playing gifted but awkward young women, plays another one here, but this time out she gets more to do, and she does it with deadpan comic timing. Rex Daugherty’s drunken fool gets laughs not by mugging broadly but by actually being, you know, funny. Theo Hadjimichael nails his character’s over-the-top pomposity, and in her small role as the object of Hadjimichael’s affections, Lindsay Haynes puts such a humorously dry topspin on her delivery you’ll wish Calderón had served her up more lines. Under Strain’s direction, Life’s a Dream bounces along nimbly, even when the script goes all grad school on us, as it invariably does whenever Eric Messner’s Sigismund lopes onstage. Sigismund is the raging, feral son of the King who has been trapped in a tower all his days. (At his birth, see, it was foretold that he would grow into an evil tyrant.) Feeling remorse, the King tests Sigismund by drugging him, bringing him to the palace, and telling him that his lifelong imprisonment was only a dream. That’s when the dialogue takes a decidedly epistemological turn, and for a few moments it seems like Messner, with his simian wrath, is hopelessly out of sync with the evening’s frothily funny mood. But then, simply by giving a line a knowing twist, he gets a big laugh, and we’re right back in. Does the production’s unflaggingly light, free-spirited tone cause Calderón’s more weighty metaphysical themes (like, say, the nature of free will), to fade into near-obscurity? Well, yep. But the better question is: Are you really gonna miss them?