Ten Blocks on the Camino Real
nytheatre.com review by Kelly Aliano
January 16, 2009
Upon entering the Ohio Theatre, you cannot help but notice, posted in various strategic locations, the phrase "Kilroy is coming." Apparently, El Camino Real is aware of this character's imminent arrival. When Kilroy hits the scene, the action of Ten Blocks on the Camino Real, presented by Target Margin Theater and directed by David Herskovits, commences. Unfortunately, despite a vivid design concept and the beautiful poetry of Tennessee Williams's text, that action is hard to follow at best.
The play operates as a surrealistic dream—or nightmare—seemingly manifested by (or for) Kilroy, an American former prizefighter, forced to quit boxing because of heart trouble. His heart, he claims, "is as big as the head of a baby" and cannot withstand any stress of any kind. Kilroy can no longer fight, drink, or have sex. He has left his beloved wife and set out for foreign shores, landing on the Camino Real, but with no clue as to where he is.
The play also involves a traveling couple, who, despite a lack of desire, are committed to one another, at least until the money runs out. In addition, there is a corrupt hotel manager, and a gypsy mother and her daughter, Esmeralda, who will supposedly regain her virginity during a nighttime festival. In particular, the couple's presence in the play seems only peripherally related to the Kilroy storyline and it is difficult to isolate why they are there at all, except that they happen also to be on the Camino Real.
The entirety of the space is used in clever and unique ways. Williams's writing is beautiful but there does not seem to be any overarching throughline to tie the poetic riffs together tightly enough to constitute a dramatic plot. The piece is filled with tidbits from other Williams's plays (for example, a woman paces saying, "Flores para los muertos," a detail found in A Streetcar Named Desire). Ten Blocks on the Camino Real comes across as a series of sketches Williams would have developed in preparation for a later work, not as a complete drama on its own. In fact, this work was the precursor for Williams's 1953 Broadway play Camino Real.
The piece is meta-theatric—there is a break in the scenes for a "brief intermission" wherein an actress gives what could have been a curtain speech had there been one. It is an interesting choice—one that suggests a connection between the surrealism of the play's dream world and the unreality of the theatre. Like much of the play's content, however, it feels ungrounded in any larger concepts or themes.
The question is raised, "What is the Camino Real?" which is answered with, "Everyone has to find out for himself." The world of this play definitely forces the audience to imbue it with meaning. There is likely at least one moment in the work to which any person can latch on. It is a challenge, however, to follow any distinct thread through the play's 80 minutes. There are too many disparate images in this dream for it to add up to anything more than a complicated collage. The actors all perform well and seem to have a clear sense of their characters' trajectories, but much of that is lost in the density of elements that the piece attempts to encompass. Ten Blocks on the Camino Real is a dream easier to awaken from than to try and interpret.