By Tennessee Williams
Pacific’s `Camino’ Is for Real
By DON SHIRLEY
TIMES STAFF WRITER
They’re trapped. Sojourners caught in the seedy plaza of a walled city, they see only one way out – via terra incognita that intimidates most of them. So they remain at the “Camino Real.”
Pronounce it “real,” not the Spanish “re-al.” In his “Camino Real,” Tennessee Williams wasn’t writing about the legendary highway along the California coast. He was referring to the “real” world as opposed to the ideal.
When the play was produced on Broadway in 1953, the actors used more than just the stage. They ran up and down the aisles, into the balconies and boxes. Audiences weren’t used to this breaking of the fourth wall.
There is no fourth wall to break at Pacific Theatre Ensemble’s storefront “black box” in Venice. As usual in this space, the audience sits scattered around the edges of the playing arena, a few inches from the action.
It’s the best way to experience “Camino Real.” It would be as difficult-maybe more so-for audience members to exit this arena as it would be for the actors. The intimacy of the house keeps us connected to the plight of these characters on a visceral level.
This is essential, because they are symbols more than people. The most prominent characters are legendary romantics: Casanova (Michael Keys Hall), Marguerite Gautier (Marilyn Fox), Lord Byron (Matt McKenzie). Most of their adventures are framed-somewhat superfluously-within a dream of that champion romantic Don Quixote (McKenzie again).
Then there is the peripatetic Kilroy (Vince Melocchi), who adds an all-American can-do romanticism to the gloomier Old World brand. The fact that he emerges from Camino Real unbowed-if not unscathed-is a testament to postwar American optimism, even from the likes of Williams.
Kilroy is not the kind of guy who would wait for Godot.
Besides using all of these archetypes, Williams added another layer of stylization with his language. He philosophized more than in most of his plays. Some of his imagery is beautiful and provocative; some of it is trite.
This could become excessive and subsequently uninvolving in a standard proscenium setting. But from our ringside seats in the middle of the maelstrom in Venice, that’s not likely.
Stephanie Shroyer has directed her tropps into every corner of the
theatre with a remarkable combination of energy and precision. Even in scenes that signal mass confusion, she gets Williams’ point across, at least from the perspective of my seat-on one of the steps near the bottom of the main steps.
She has actors who can pull it off too. Fox’s Marguerite is a grand distillation of every other Tennessee Williams heroine you’ve seen. Melocchi’s Kilroy is a sweaty, rumpled Nice Guy in extremis. Dan Verdin’s white-suited Gutman, who runs the local hostelry on behalf of an unseen generalissimo, is that menacing man in the corner, inexorably barking out the scenes, or “blocks.”
The cynicism of Patricia Sherick’s Gypsy crackles and pops with darkly comic undertones. And Sue Giffin, as her daughter Esmeralda-who loses her virginity anew each night-creates an intriguing portrait of her innocent/experienced girl/woman. Howard Shangraw leers magnificently as Baron de Charlus, cruising through Camino Real, and Sean Terrance Morrow and T. Mark Elliott giggle ominously as two street cleaners you never want to meet.
Steve Markus’ set design embraces the kitsch within Williams’ ,play but also manages to clear the way for all of that action. Daniel Gordon’s intricate lighting is a big help in delineating what’s going on, and J. Michael Alexander’s music adds an element of gravity to the climaxes.
In short, it’s another production triumph for this ensemble-which is becoming the town’s foremost specialist in teeming dramatic landscapes. It’s also essential viewing for Williams fans; while it’s not his best play, it could hardly be a clearer explication of his soul
“Camino Real,” Pacific Theatre Ensemble, 705 Venice Blvd., Venice, Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends
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