Wandering the Camino

Tennessee Williams is, as everyone knows, one of America’s greatest playwrights, and I can’t imagine anyone arguing otherwise. One of his lesser known, or at least lesser-produced, plays is Camino Real, an enigmatic, poetic, dreamscape that eludes most elements of plot, place, time and character relationships. Some say this piece is known mostly for its bad productions. (It ran a scant 60 performances on Broadway.)

courtesy Girl Friday Productions

When I first read this play I wondered how it could be staged, how someone could make it work for an audience. It’s a piece that relies on a strong director’s concept. William’s Glass Menagerie is known as a “dream play” but this one….this is a fretful, fever-induced, tossing-and-turning, disturbing dream-filled kind of night. It’s replete with varied and international characters (including several literary and social icons—Kilroy, Don Quixote, Casanova, as well as deathly street sweepers) and with bits of different romance languages and dialects thrown in and multiple sub-plots and themes, all taking place in an unidentified country. (Unidentified for Kilroy especially, who isn’t sure at all where he’s come ashore, and no one will tell him.)

My initial take on the script was that it was a piece which would be extremely difficult to produce and could be extremely risky for a producer. It’s complex. It may not be readily accessible to an audience. It might just be Wiliams’ most challenging play, requiring strong skills to wrangle it into a presentable vision. However, with the richness of the language and the delicious complexity of the people who inhabit this world, with the right talents it could provide a big pay off.

In other words, if you can make it work it could be amazing.

After all, art is hard. (Or at least the song says “art isn’t easy.”) If it were easy it wouldn’t be worth it.

Girl Friday Productions has taken on the daunting task of staging this work. This play is so different from Williams’ other works, and I suspect that the fact that I knew this going in allowed me to be open to simply experiencing the performance. Because I knew that the plot wasn’t linear and the characters were representative, I didn’t spend energy trying to figure out where we were, who was who or what those relationships were. And it’s not that I knew the answers to that so much as I thereby allowed myself to just listen and watch.

I let it roll over me.

I found the whole thing fascinating.

It helped, of course, that the director is a strong visionary, and I think it helped even more that he gathered an extraordinary cast of talented actors. Together they created a world that was intriguing and engaging (and frankly, kind of f***ed up) from beginning to end.

One big take away for me was a desire to learn more about Tennessee Williams’ personal life. Other than its clear theme of being lost, this play has prominent motifs of loneliness, betrayal, desperation and longing. There’s a real sadness that pervades these lives, albeit with brief poignant and touching moments of hope and connection.

It makes me think he wrote it from a sad and lonely place, and that this is (was) the way he felt the world worked when it came to satisfaction, whether that was satisfaction in love or satisfaction with one’s own self or one’s own accomplishments.

I could, of course, be completely off with that. I’ve heard he wrote it while holed up in some small Mexican or Central American town, where he got rather sick. Hence the fever dream quality. Still, it’s what I took away from this experience and whether that’s what Tennessee wanted or not, or even this director or cast, it’s what I got. The beautiful thing about art is in its subjectivity.

This show taught me once again that the power of theatre lies in the truth, earnestness and details of the work put up there by the directors, actors and designers. All done here with a ferocious manner by each member of the cast and team.

And such honesty creates intrigue, and such engagement creates a special night with strangers, in the dark, at a theater. It was a bizarre, fascinating and engaging walk down that road.

This rare opportunity continues through July 27 at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage.

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