The New York Times describes Tennessee Williams’ “Camino Real” as “A play torn out of a human soul.” Upon viewing this adapted version directed by Calixto Bieito at Goodman Theatre, I believe that Williams’ soul is not only wickedly vivid, but blazingly poetic and downright bizarre.
Because of my age, there were numerous precautions taken prior to my viewing of “Camino Real.” Wavers were signed, emails were sent, and I was reminded that sexually violent themes (among other things) were going to be explored. This all allowed me to mentally prepare for such an avant-garde performance. However, most audiences won’t get the fair warning I received. I strongly recommend a little pre-performance research for viewers of any age, so they can prepare for a spectacle that will puzzle, intrigue and even mesmerize audiences.
Above all, set designer Rebecca Ringst has created a perplexing “full-but-empty” stage picture that includes odds and ends ranging from neon burlesque lights to scattered suitcases. This is by far the strongest aspect of “Camino Real.” I sat stunned by both the complexity and monstrosity of each new addition to the stage. This set enhanced the actors, allowed greater technical changes throughout the show and sucked the audience into a Latin wasteland of lost souls that lie within the wrinkles of Williams’ mind.
“Camino Real” blends the line between theater and performance art, creating an experience that, while confusing, is entrancing. I felt as if I was constantly in control. If I were to get overwhelmed, I could focus on emotion or even the other business on stage. Bieito’s choice to keep the majority of actors on stage at all times is risky. Fortunately, it works in his favor. Instead of looking like a group interpretation, it adds to the mantra of “Camino Real;” that everyone who ends up up here is a lost, wandering soul. They have nowhere else to go, and so must remain on the stage.
The demands imposed by Williams’ prose, Bietito’s direction and Marc Rosich’s adaptation could very well be an actor’s worst nightmare. But the actors take this challenge head on. From the aimless exoskeletons — a thrillingly nuanced Barbra Robertson and Andre De Shields — to Williams himself (portrayed by “the Dreamer” Michael Medeiros), each actor brought out a fully charged thespian arsenal – from daring physicality to heart-wrenching monologues — to much success. Each performer meets his or her demands well, and the result is a stage littered and underscored with Williams’ long-lost and discarded ideas.
The characters take on a less-human form as they wander to the tune of Medeiros’ guitar. The song selection and “musical numbers” incorporated within the show add heat and well as another heavy layer for the audience to take in. With gears turning, eyes gazing and ears blazing, “Camino Real” is a royal workout. Bieito has made it impossible for the audience to catch its breath for more than a few seconds, yet still manages to keep everyone and everything engaged.
I feel privileged having been able to attend “Camino Real”; frankly, because I wouldn’t recommend any of my teen-aged peers to run out and see it. Some mental preparation beforehand is much encouraged, seeing as it allowed me to look past the shock factor that is the concoction of Calixto Bieito, Marc Rosich and Tennessee Williams.
“Camino Real” is a must-see for the adventurous theater-goer, and serves its purpose well when an audience is willing to become enraptured by the cavernous, decayed yet sensually thrilling mind of Tennessee Williams.