If you”™re wondering why there is a brush fire of plays by Tennessee Williams sweeping through LA this year, that”™s because it”™s the 100 year anniversary of this great American playwright”™s birth.
Review by Pauline Adamek
The award-winning stage company The Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena has taken the bold step of selecting and staging a seldom-seen experimental work by Williams, Camino Real. This fact alone should persuade you to book your tickets rÃ¡pido. Camino Real may not be one of the legendary playwright”™s best and more accessible works, but this brilliantly staged co-production – that includes a blend of professional actors with student actors and faculty from CalArts – is well-worth seeing.
Avant-garde, frenzied and suffused with desperation – Camino Real, as directed by Jessica Kubzansky, unfolds as a spacey, crazy dream from the mind of the first character we encounter, Don Quixote (Lenny von Dohlen). The spooky tone is set from the start, when we first see a zombie parade of weird characters shuffle onto the stage, clad in a dazzling array of costumes, some contemporary, some in period style, courtesy of designer Silvianne E. B. Park.
Spanish for “The Royal Road,” Williams”™ Camino Real is a surreal, walled-in city which becomes a kind of purgatory for the play”™s myriad characters, famous figures from literature and history and some of Williams”™ own invention. Williams also employs a large cast of characters including many famous literary characters to appear in dream sequences. They includes Don Quixote and his partner Sancho, Marguerite “˜Camille”™ Gautier (from The Lady of the Camellias), Casanova, Lord Byron and Esmeralda (from The Hunchback of Notre Dame), among others. These lost souls, terrified of what lies beyond the wall – the Terra Incognita – struggle to escape their fate or make one last, meaningful connection. This contemporary, comic, and heartbreaking flight of theatricality is Tennessee Williams at his most surprising.
Battling to comprehend their various destinies, this motley collection of characters all seem desperate to escape from this dead-end purgatory, while spectral street sweepers hover, waiting to dispose of the weak or the dead. The nightmarish play unfolds via a series of sixteen “blocks,” or scenes, with each dramatically announced by a tyrannical ruler.
Kilroy (Matthew Goodrich), an initially idealistic young American soldier and boxer, fulfills some of the functions of the play”™s narrator and everyman, as does the smug and cruel tyrant Gutman (Brian Tichnell), the manager of the hotel Siete Mares, whose terrace dominates the stage. Taking place in the main plaza, the play goes through a series of confusing and almost logic-defying events, including the frenzied spectacle of a cyclical revival of the Gypsy”™s daughter Esmeralda”™s virginity and its subsequent loss. With its frequent presentation of desperate acts taken by various characters, a theme emerges that examines the terror of growing old and becoming irrelevant.
Vicious, bleak and a little nasty, Camino Real is not for the faint-hearted. Bravo to Brian Tichnell, playing the despot Gutman, for a brief scene of full-frontal nudity that – for once – didn”™t look ridiculous.
Kalean Ung as Esmerelda deserves special mention for her incredible performance of an indentured sex-slave, conveying alluring sexuality, calculated eroticism and convincing timidity in this multi-layered role.
Be advised – Camino Real is a long night at the theatre, clocking in at three hours, including an intermission. To anyone tempted to jump ship after Act One, I urge them to stick around. Â Act Two offers several rewards, including a stunningly choreographed slow-motion carnival dance sequence and the aforementioned nudity (cheap thrills!), as well as a satisfying conclusion to this insane, fevered nightmare of a play.
Do not miss this show.
*** Late Nite Salon: Post-show Fridays.Â Stick around and talk about the production over a complimentary glass of wine. March 4th & 11th ***
Backstory: Highly acclaimed in his day, Tennessee Williams – born Thomas Lanier Williams on March 26, 1911 – won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948 and for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955. In addition, The Glass Menagerie (1944 in Chicago, 1945 in New York) and The Night of the Iguana (1961) received New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards. His 1952 play The Rose Tattoo received the Tony Award for best play. In 1980 President Jimmy Carter presented Williams with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
70 North Mentor Avenue Pasadena, CA
Runs until March 13, 2011
Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m.
Sundays, 2 p.m.
Approximately three hours, including 15 minute intermission
Purchase tickets here or call (626) 683-6883
The Boston Court Performing Arts Center is dedicated to presenting works that are creative, bold and daring.Â We strive to challenge the audiences of Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley with diverse programs in an intimate setting.