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A CurtainUp Review
Ten Blocks on the Camino Real
By Les Gutman
The reception on Broadway was chilly, presaged by a defensive article Williams himself wrote in The New York Times acknowledging that " this play will exasperate and confuse a certain number of people." For his part, Kazan declared it one of the best plays Williams wrote, yet admitted he was never able to get it right. Walter Kerr called it "the worst play yet written by the best playwright of this generation," while Brooks Atkinson tried to like it but nonetheless tagged it as appeallingly bleak. George Nathan summed it up as "a cold stew of Kaiser expressionism, Cocteau extravaganza, Wedekind sexual anarchy, Strindberg nightmare fancy, Stein aural theory, Sartre dead-end philosophy, and Schönberg tonal technique".
Sixty years later, with the advantage of the bodies of work of Ionesco and Beckett, among many others, and not to mention the sort of fractured dream theater as practiced by Richard Foreman, we may not be quite so discombobulated by this work, but it's hard not to wonder what could have been more wrong as to time and place than this play on Broadway in 1953. Which makes the sense of Target Margin's staging now, in its original raw form, all the more compelling.
While the play's surrealism might have been off-putting to Broadway audiences, there's a sensibility here that's very familiar to those who know and appreciate what Target Margin does. The play seems more at home than it likely did uptown. Trying to make too much sense of the story is a thankless task; this is the sort of play one needs to relax with and let waft over one's consciousness or, alternatively, assault it.)
The original Broadway production of Camino Real had a cast of thirty. A revival at Lincoln Center (starring Al Pacino and Jessica Tandy, no less, but alas, enticing audiences no more) a mere thirty years ago was somewhat leaner. Ten blocks, which admittedly doesn't require as many, is undertaken with only five actors, not counting the guitar/accordian player. David Herskovits has assembled an able group, headed by the engaging Satya Bhabha as Kilroy and supported by four others, all of whom take on multiple roles. He makes excellent use of the Ohio Theater, with much credit due to Lenore Doxsee, who designed both the sets and the lighting, and steers the enterprise through the script as clearly as one can imagine possible, making big gestures when the symbolism requires, indicating lots of others in his signature emphatic style and yet allowing a few quieter moments to creep in and grab at the audiences emotions.
There's a degree of sport in comparing this early version to the "finished" product. Many literary/historical figures who wander in and out of the latter are not in the earlier version; Don Quixote appears at the beginning of the latter, but only at the end here; both Casanova and Camille make appearances as does the Gypsy (subject to a bit of Target Margin reinterpretation) and her daughter who, we are told, regains her virginity with every new moon; and the character named Gutman (no relation and also of no literary significance), though appearing in both, takes on both Brechtian and Wilder-esque characteristics in the final play but not in the earlier version. But what's even more interesting is that, even at its roughest, the lyricism and symbolism with which Williams saturates all of his plays are very much in evidence, even though without much connective tissue in the form of plot or character development.
Is this, as Kazan suggested, one of Williams's best? Probably not. Yet I was pleased to see this spirited production in this compressed form.
Camino Real at Williamstown
CurtainUp's Playwright Album on Williams