Theater in Chicago Review: Camino Real at Chicago's Goodman Theatre Sparks Debate.

Theater in Chicago Review: Camino Real at Chicago's Goodman Theatre Sparks Debate.
Kilroy (Antwayn Hopper) arrives at the Camino Real and takes in the grisly scene at the fountain in Calixto Bieito’s reimagined production of Tennessee Williams’ Camino Real (March 3 – April 8, 2012).

Tennessee William's most poetic and perhaps least known work, Camino Real, has been creating a lot of buzz--both good and bad--from audiences at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. The show, directed by the controversial Barcelona-based director Calixto Bieito in collaboration with Marc Rosich, opened over the weekend, sparking debate on social media and in print.

Some people have walked out in the middle of the one-hour-and-forty-five-minute, no-intermission production, saying it is the worst piece of trash ever. Others are calling it magical, riveting, lavish, mind-bending and extraordinary.

How can so many people watching the same show see it so differently? First, it depends on why you go to the theater. Do you go to be entertained, challenged, shocked, to escape reality, to laugh, to cry, to learn--or because your spouse drags you? If your answer is yes to any or all of the first seven, Camino Real may be for you.

Camino Real, which originally opened on Broadway in 1953--pre-dating the experimental theatre of the 1960s--was not a initially a success--however eventually the poetic-repetition non-literary styled play won over many critics and theater-goers alike.

The current production, crafted by Bieito along with an internationally acclaimed creative team, including longtime artistic partners Catalan playwright and co-adapter Marc Rosich and German set designer Rebecca Ringst, as well as Chicago-based costume designer Ana Kuzmanic, lighting designer James F. Ingalls, sound designer Richard Woodbury and music director Andra Velis Simon plus an outstanding ensemble cast of thirteen offers a unique perspective.

Yes, this production is shocking, there is blood, violence, bondage and sodomy...and yes it is controversial--but isn't that what theater should be...it should make us think.

The play's iconic/ironic humor, playful conceits, and towering concerns about society's demand for conformity make it a classic--not as a play, but as a long poem. Deconstructing the poetry of the play one finds many memorable lines: “Make voyages. Attempt them. There’s nothing else.” said by Byron; "Why does disappointment make people unkind to each other", muses Jacques; or when Marguerite voices,  "We have to distrust each other. It is our only defense against betrayal", and the prophetic line "The spring of humanity has gone dry".

The best way to view the show is to just let it happen, to be swept up by the poetry, the illusion, the dream, and not to judge. There is a lot packed into this production from Lord Byron to Casanova, representing all facets of mankind--just as there is in life. If you focus, only on the parts, you may miss the whole.  If you focus on the whole you will be transported to “Camino Real”... the end of the road.

Gathered at the end of this road is a motley crew of iconic characters hanging out in Camino Real-–waiting to either die or escape. Some you may recognize, others you may not. Michael Medeiros, as the booze-infested, pill-popping Tennessee Williams (The Dreamer) character, presents a powerful portrayal of the author while spitting and vomiting all over the stage between proliferating his brilliant poetic observations; then there's Casanova (David Darlow) who turns up as the over-the-hill lover with aplomb as he makes his moves on the aging seductress, Marguerite Gautier, in a wonderful recreation by Marilyn Dodds Frank; the flamboyant, bombastic,  romantic poet, Lord Byron (played with perfection by Mark Montgomery) arrives raving against the man who cut the heart out of the corpse of his fellow poet, Shelley;  Carolyn Ann Hoerdemann brings alive the Gypsy; André De Shields is a crowd favorite with his masterful portrayal of Baron de Charlus especially when he takes center stage at the Fiesta; and Travis A. Knight is hot as the smoldering male prostitute, Hoerdemann.  Into this hopeless mix comes an American, named Kilroy (Antwayn Hopper), who personifies the outsider who doesn’t accept the “rules”– that it is “the end”--and tries to escape the inevitable.

The rest of the ensemble including Barbara E. Robertson as Rosita; Jacqueline Williams as La Madrecita De Los Perdidos; Monica Lopez as Esmeralda;  Jonno Roberts as Lobo; and Matt DeCaro's as Gutman were top-notch.

"Camino Real" is unusual and will not be for everyone. In my opinion, it could be Williams most brilliant work but keep in mind that it is very different from his other more well known works including: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; Streecar Named Desire; The Rose Tattoo and The Glass Menagerie.

Tickets.

Tickets ($25 – $79; subject to change) can be purchased at GoodmanTheatre.org by phone at 312.443.3800 or at the box office (170 North Dearborn).  Through April 8, 2012.

Dining.

You may want to go for a Spanish-themed experience some Tapas and a little Cava.   Some suggestions:  If you're coming from the South Side you may want to stop by Camino Real, 4235 W 63rd St., (773) 735-7837--Disclaimer, I have not visited the restaurant but could not resist the name. Closer to the theater are: Cafe Iberico, 737 N. LaSalle, 312 5731510 and Emillo's Tapas,  215 E. Ohio, 312 467-7177.

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