Camino Real

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theatre for KCRW.

It’s not politically correct for a theater person to say that they hate Tennessee Williams. Well “hate” might be a little strong, but l certainly wasn’t the first person in line to sit through another
gloriously languorous production of “The Glass Menagerie.”

I can admit my disdain for this venerated American playwright now because I’m mostly over it. So what happened? Two new productions of his
work opened my eyes to the wonder of Willams - first the Wooster Group’s radical re-imagining of “Vieux Carre” at RedCat last fall. And
now, a jarring production of “Camino Real” presented by Boston Court and CalArts.

Okay, before you call to correct my pronunciation - Tennessee Williams isn’t writing about El Camino Real but instead, a place he’s imagined. A purgatory at the end of the King’s Road he’s dubbed the “Camino Real”

The setting for the play is a walled-in square in a nondescript Latin American country. The square is bounded by two hotels - the Siete Mares and the Ritz - Men Only. This little world within a world is ruled by a tyrant of a hotel clerk, vicious armed guards, and a pair of funereal street cleaners. But there’s also plenty of life: a taco vender, a kid hawking loteria, a prostitute who regains her virginity. The rest of the characters are a who’s who of literary history; there’s Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Dumas’ Dame aux Camelias, Cassanova, Lord Byron. And they’re all caught in a complex modern day Dante’s “Inferno” for hopeful lovers and trapped romantics.

“Camino Real” was written in 1953 right after “The Rose Tattoo” and “Streetcar Named Desire” and right before “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”. But in form and narrative style, it’s in an entirely different universe. It’s stunning to think that Williams’ experiment happened not at the edges of his career but smack dab in the middle of it. Williams’ left the comfort of naturalism for something symbolic, something unknown. The Boston Court production embraces that journey and creates a world where a photo booth, one of those three-pictures-for-a-dollar jobs, can become a portal to the great unknown.

The play is a co-production between Boston Court and CalArts. CalArts provided the design talent, who brought the inspired photo booth to life, and the bulk of the actors. It’s an inspired partnership, after all what small LA theater could afford a production with 20 actors in this economic climate? It’s a model we don’t see enough of in LA, a mix of aspiring students and seasoned professionals. And while some of the CalArts students have that charming uncertainty of artists who haven’t quite found their voices, several others beautifully anchor the

Let me end my review with the show’s beginning - in the opening moments a protester in the square is gunned down by armed guards. At it’s heart, “Camino Real” is a show about escaping tyrants both real and imagined. They say history doesn’t repeat itself - it rhymes. Perhaps Tennessee Williams’ greatest act of poetry was making the “Camino Real” rhyme with Tahrir square, Green square, and the Pearl Roundabout.

“Camino Real” plays through March 13th at the Theatre at Boston Court in Pasadena.

For info on the play text the word “curtain” to 69866.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theatre for KCRW.

"Camino Real" by Tennessee Williams
at the Boston Court Theater through March 13th