Friday, March 18, 2011

Douglas Messerli "Music from Another World" (on Mac Wellman's "The Hyacinth Macaw")

by Douglas Messerli

Mac Wellman The Hyacinth Macaw / performed aboard The Queen Mary ship, Long Beach, California / the performance I saw was on March 12, 2011

As the publisher of Mac Wellman's two volume-set of plays Crowtet and other Wellman fictions, plays, and books of poetry, I have grown so used to the praise that most often accompanies his performances and publications that I was a bit shocked by the series of quite negative reviews in the local press for the second of the Crowtet plays, The Hyacinth Macaw, performed recently by the California Repertory Company aboard the Queen Mary ship in Long Beach.

I have always thought of The Hyacinth Macaw, along with the first of the series, A Murder of Crows, as one of Mac's best works, and I included that play in the anthology we edited together, From the Other Side of the Century II: A New American Drama 1960-1995, for that very reason. I had seen A Murder of Crows at Primary Stages in New York City way back in 1992; the third play of the Crowtet quartet, Second-Hand Smoke, was performed as a reading by the Bottoms Dream group in Los Angeles in a series of readings over two years which I co-sponsored. I also saw a reading of that play in New York. Bottoms Dream presented the premiere of the final Crowtet play, The Lesser Magoo in 1997, a production which I attended. Accordingly, The Hyacinth Macaw was the only play of the series I had not seen, and I thought it a lovely idea to dine on the Queen Mary and stay overnight in the ship's hotel overnight with my companion and friends Marty Nakell and Rebecca Goodman.

Like most of Wellman's work, highly praised over the years, The Hyacinth Macaw is filled with wonderfully irrational language along with what appear to be everyday aphorisms, parables, and commercial-like babble. The combination allows almost all of Wellman's work to straddle two fences: his characters and locale are often middle-class Midwesterners, behaving—or, at least, attempting to behave—like everyone else, while suddenly finding themselves in a tangled, bizarre series of metaphysical conundrums for which they have simply not been prepared.

In The Hyacinth Macaw the typical American family living in Gradual, Ohio (a town with "a gym, a school, a mall, all the normal things"), comes face to face with Mr. William Hard—representative clearly of all the "hard" things they will have to face—who tells the daughter Susannah what she has always wanted to hear, she's an orphan, a "useless yanked-up thing." Presenting a letter to Dora, Susannah's mother, he reveals, moreover, that the father, Ray, is a duplicate and is doomed to leave the family forever, which seems somewhat agreeable to both husband and wife. They all are, after all, bored with the complacency of their lives, Ray revealing that years before, when he was "a kid" "I went crazy, and they hauled me off to a nut house." He tells of writing a perverted drama, "dwelling on the topic of lips and thighs." Over the years, although the urges have not abated, he has "trained" those urges with "patience, and little sweet gifts, cookies, chocolates and the like."

Dora reveals a longing to escape as well, and in the final act leaves her home with Mad Wu who whisks her away to the nearby town of Moon Hat.

In the final scene Susannah and William Hard, her now surrogate father, bury the sick and dying moon, clearly suffering from the world's lack of romanticism.

In short, Wellman's play seems closely related to a mix of Albee's American Dream blended up with large doses of soap opera events coated with a thick compound of linguistic play and word wizardry which thoroughly amuses and confounds us. So what's not to like? And why describe his play, as did the reviewer Joel Beers, of the OCWeekly as "an adolescent episode of theatrical dementia," or accuse it, as Greggory Moore of Greater Long Beach, of suffering from the "imitative fallacy," a work that in talking about boredom, imitates boredom?

The director, James Martin, has long worked with Wellman, producing one of the best productions, Cellophane, I have ever seen, and overseeing several others, including The Lesser Magoo. Yet here, I am afraid, he has lost some of Wellman's necessarily quick pacing, and by the last scenes the play begins to lag.

Certain scenes, such as the father's long and absurdly funny farewell, were played too much for laughs. In the script the father drinks only water, but in Martin's version, he increasingly imbibes in wine, getting drunker and drunker in the process. The problem with such a literal reading as this is not only that it takes our attention away from his words, but seems to suggest his long-winded, somewhat meaningless chatter can be explained away: he's just drunk. In truth, Ray's speech is filled with a kind pathos that is crucial to our feelings for him:

I see myself a feckless youth hardened by
prolonged abstinence and chilblains, aghast,
alone, in agony. I see myself, a young shoe-
salesman on the windy plains of West Gradual,
where the Bug River hyphenates the mighty Ohio
with its moxie doodle, a cipher, a tragic hipster,
a tramp. I encounter the notorious Mu Factor
in the sad, shanty towns of Shenango and deem
myself wise with the leer of unholy knowingness.

As in Allen Ginsberg's Howl, there is a sort of self-centered, self-loathing poetry in Ray's speech, a kind of poetic richness that transcends his ordinariness. Wellman's works are filled with these kind of poetic moments, when despite their drab lives, the characters speak out momentarily in a dream of wonderment. Dora gets her turn in the next scene with her daughter:

The time comes when you hear the music
from another world. You know the
music is from another world because
it is so sad and strange you feel
as if you awakened from a dream,
flung your fists out in a nightfever
and caught a living sparrow in your
hand. Only, the bird sings a piercing
wildnote threnody that drives you
unwilling straight to the center of

Actress Lysa Fox in the production on the Queen Mary played this scene nearly perfectly by performing it straight as if she were saying the most ordinary thing she might say day after day. Some of the others in this production simply acted too much, which can kill a Wellman play before it can puff up to its full poetic confection. Or perhaps I should say, they tried too hard. Like Mad Wu's song in the penultimate scene—

I sleep in the woods
all day, all night;
If I don't finish this song
There's no one around
To tell me I'm wrong;
or, worse, that I'm right.

—there must always be a sort of casual insanity about what is spoken in The Hyacinth Macaw. If the actors take the lines too seriously, they destroy both the poetry and the fun.
I don't think that explains the hostility of the local critics, but it does account for their lack of comprehension. It's not that Wellman's plays are so difficult. They just have to be buoyantly performed in order to succeed—a hard thing to do in a country where acting is still somewhat attached to method. For there is no method to Wellman's sad and joyous madness.

Los Angeles, March 18, 2011
Copyright (c) 2011 by Douglas Messerli

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Douglas Messerli "Three Bernstein New Yorks" (on On the Town, Wonderful Town, and West Side Story)

Three Bernstein New Yorks
by Douglas Messerli

Joseph A. Fields and Jerome Chodorov, based on stories by Ruth McKenney My Sister Eileen, Biltmore Theatre, New York, opened December 26, 1940.

Betty Comden and Adolph Green (book and lyrics), Leonard Bernstein (music) On the Town, Adelphi Theater, New York, opened December 28, 1944.

Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov (book), Betty Comden and Adolph Green (lyrics), Leonard Bernstein (music) Wonderful Town, Winter Garden, New York, opened February 26, 1953.22

Arthur Laurents (book), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics), Leonard Bernstein (music) West Side Story, Winter Garden, New York, opened September 26, 1957.

Arthur Laurents (book), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics), Leonard Bernstein (music) Wonderful Town (revival), Al Hirschfeld Theatre, New York, 2003 / the performance I attended was on Saturday, May 8, 2004.

Given a 24-hour shore leave, three sailor friends—Gabey, Ozzie and Chip—are let loose on the city of New York. All want to “see the sights,” particularly Chip, but they are also seeking “romance and danger”: after all, it’s World War II, and the men—evidently—have been long at sea. A helluva town, New York—where the “Bronx is up” (suggesting not only northernmost borough of the city but the vulgar cheer of contempt) and the “Battery’s down” (suggesting both the southern tip of Manhattan and a source of lagging energy), where one must endure an unbearable pace and “seven millions…screaming for space”—is ready and willing to greet them. Indeed the New York of On the Town (which premiered in 1944) is a city in love with strangers, a community that quickly embraces its visitors. No sooner is Ivy Smith named the subway system’s “Miss Turnstiles” of the month, than Gabey falls in love with her poster image.

Brunhilde Esterhazy (the incomparable Nancy Walker in the original production), a taxi driver, invites Chip “up to her place.” Only after she convinces him that the New York he is desperate to see—a city of the Hippodrome, “Tobacco Road,” and the Manhattan Aquarium—no longer exists does he accept her offer, and is she able not only to make love but can cook!

Ozzie, in the mean time, has mistakenly visited the Museum of Natural History in search of Gabey’s Ivy (the poster has described her as studying painting at a museum); there he encounters Claire de Loon, a would-be anthropologist in search of a “sub-super-dolico¬cephalic head”—and any man attached. The two (in the original, the musical’s book and lyric writers Betty Green and Adolph Comden) quickly discoverthat they are kindred souls, people who easily get “Carried Away,” and, ultimately, as proof of their malady, they destroy the museum’s rare dinosaur.

For a short while, the friendly city is experienced by Gabey, wandering through Central Park, as “A Lonely Town”; but that feeling soon disappears when he discovers his long-sought Ivy at a Carnegie Hall studio, and she, immediately smitten with him, promises to meet him in Times Square at 11 p.m. Due to previous commitments (enforced performances as a cooch dancer on Coney Island to pay for her ballet lesson debts) Ivy is a no-show; but his friends and their dates (along with a unsuitable substitute date for Gabey, Lucy Schmeeler) head out for a night on the town.

Once more, Gabey perceives the lively city as a lonely place, but his friends cheer him up with their love and zaniness. When he discovers that Ivy is working on Coney Island, he quickly speeds off (via subway and nightmare ballet) to find her, while the others, recognizing that their 24 hours are almost over, sing Bernstein’s lovely lament to the end of their short-lived romances, “Some Other Time” (“This day was just a token, / Too many words are still unspoken. / Oh, well, we’ll catch up / Some other time.”). Gabey and Ivy are quickly reunited just in time for the all three sailors to return to their ship, replaced by a new trio on their way to see the “wonderful town.”

I recount this plot, since many readers may have only seen the enjoyable but less than perfect movie version which not only devotes a great deal of its energies to the characters’ attempts to escape authority, but also deletes the majority of the most charming of the original’s music and lyrics: “Carried Away,” “Lonely Town,” “Lucky to Be Me,” and “Some Other Time.” What I am most interested in conveying about the original is the near absolute excitement about the city itself. On the Town is a valentine to New York, a city presented as, perhaps, vulgar and fast-paced, but also loving, accepting, embracing. As Comden and Green write: New York is “a visitor’s place,” a world that loves outsiders.

Just short of a decade later, however, in Wonderful Town—based on the 1940 play My Sister Eileen, by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov—the city is presented as a very different place. Although the musical begins exuberantly enough, again with tourists—these encountering the “sweet,” “pleasant” and “peaceful” Christopher Street—the two new interlopers at the musical’s center quickly regret leaving home. In their caterwauling rendition (which turns into a wild howl as their apartment is shaken by a dynamite blast for a new subway) of “O—H—I—O,” (“Why, oh why, oh why, oh— / Why did I ever leave Ohio?”), the Sherwood sisters (brilliantly performed in the original by Rosalind Russell and Janet Blair, and in the 2003 revival, which I witnessed, by Donna Murphy and Jennifer Westfeldt) express not just their fears and loneliness in the city, but their absolute distress.

Gabey in On the Town, who may feel temporarily lonely, these women are rejected. The popular and attractive Eileen finds that those qualities get her nowhere with regard to a theater career. Ruth, desiring to be a writer, is literally told by her romantic interest, Robert Baker: “Go home / Go West! / Go back where you came from.” In the operatic prelude to that song, the male lead goes so far as to warn her that those coming to New York are “in for a bitter surprise.”

Everyone in this version of New York seems to have an angle, even the love-stricken soda jerk Frank Lippincott. Sent on a wild goose chase to the Navy pier, Ruth gets ridiculously involved with other visitors—members of a Brazilian navy ship—who tail her back to Greenwich Village. Their absurd Conga line gets Ruth, Eileen, and nearly everyone else arrested. So much for New York’s hospitality!

Of course, this is an old-fashioned musical where all must end well: the publicity surrounding their arrests lands Eileen a night club job and presents Ruth with the possibility of being a news reporter (a long way, one must admit, from their goals: stage performance and writing serious fiction). Robert Baker realizes he has fallen in love with Ruth, and Frank Lippincott makes up with Eileen. The last number of the musical—in which the sisters and others sing “Wrong Note Rag”—leaves one, moreover, with a strange feeling that not everything is in proper order, that staying in New York may not be their best solution. Bernstein’s almost blaring atonality combined with radical syncopation make one, at the very least, a bit uneasy.

By the time of Bernstein’s West Side Story New York has transformed—for both book writer and lyricist (Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim)—to a war zone. Not only are the outsiders, represented by the Puerto Rican Sharks, unloved and unwanted, but the home-boy Jets are societal rejects, which they brilliantly express in “Gee, Officer Krupke!” (“Our mothers all are junkies, / Our fathers all are drunks. / Golly Moses, natcherly we’re punks!”). Love may have been difficult for Ruth Sherwood, but it is absolutely unthinkable for Tony and Maria, as the battle breaks out. Authority—represented by Krupke, Doc and a couple of others—is ineffectual; in both the musical and the movie (which is, in itself, a masterwork) show a city where the adults have all but disappeared. Gangs are the only family left to these young people.

Both sides seek another time, a place apart from the current landscape. For Tony everything lies in the future (“Who knows? / It’s only just out of reach, / Down the block, on a beach, / under a tree. … Something’s coming, something good, / If I can wait!”). For the male Sharks it lies in the past of their beloved Puerto Rico. Only their women love New York and America; but even their paean to their new country is filled with sarcasm (“Ev’rthing free in American / For a small fee in America!”). Certainly New York is no longer the friendly and welcoming city of On the Town.

The soldiers in that musical were loved; these soldiers of the street encounter only hate.

Almost all of the characters in this work desire an out, a world where they may be welcome by being themselves—whether they are simply disenfranchised, racially outcast, or a forbidden couple: “Somewhere a place for us. / Peace and quiet and open air / Wait for us / Somewhere.” Locked in the chasm of New York’s city streets—brilliantly presented in the opening sequences of the motion picture—the denizens of New York’s upper West Side (The rumor is that originally Bernstein intended to locate his characters in the East Side—a war between Jews and Catholics; fortunately, he was dissuaded from that idea.) have no way to escape. Their only hope is to be “cool” enough to “live it up and die in bed.” In this hateful landscape, however, love is not “cool”; Tony is doomed by the very thing that was so openly proffered to Gabey, Ozzie, and Chip.

Obviously, the shifts I am talking about do not completely exist within the context of Leonard Bernstein’s music. The source materials—the original My Sister Eileen for Wonderful Town and Romeo and Juliet for West Side Story—strongly determined the way New York is presented. The lyricists, moreover, delineated many of the ideas on which I have commented. Yet, it seems interesting to me, nonetheless, that Bernstein devoted his major energies during this period to these three musicals, each representing New York so differently.

What had happened to the city and the idea of the city through these years 1944 to 1957? How could this idea so utterly change within the span of barely more than a decade? Certainly, by the late 1960s, I recall, the upper West side of the city had begun to look more and more like a bombed-out territory. 42nd Street was a kind of terrifying gauntlet of porno theaters and hucksters. I recall sharing a taxi with a young woman from Natchez on her way to the theater one night. When we dropped her off at 45th Street, she recoiled, turning back into the taxi; “Oh no, no,” she proclaimed, horrified at being left alone there, “this can’t be the theater district!” The city was no longer seen as a habitable space.

Today New York—with its spiffed-up 42nd Street and conspicuously glistening streets of wealth—seems more welcoming to visitors than it might have been even in 1944. Would three soldiers on the prowl, however, be so readily embraced? I don’t think these are questions that can be easily answered; New York has always been many things to different people. But clearly, it appears as the American concept of the city and the idea of community it represented, as seen through the lens of these three popular entertainments, had changed rapidly over a twelve-year period. By the mid-1960s American cities were being set afire by some of their own angry residents. Perhaps Bernstein’s and his collaborators’ three New Yorks might give us a clue to what had changed.

Los Angeles, June 3, 2004
Reprinted from The Green Integer Review, No. 2 (March-April 2006)

If I seem in the above comments to downplay the significance of the great musical West Side Story, I want to assure the reader that I feel I have a very special relationship with that work. I bought the 1957 recording when it first appeared—at a time when my family did not own a record player—and insisted that my parents let me order the libretto printed by the Fireside Theater series. When we did get a stereo record player, I lay for hours listening over and over to the musical, reading along with the text, nearly memorizing both libretto and song lyrics. I performed (in a loud and probably quite intolerable voice) both “Something’s Coming” and “Maria” at our high school yearbook show.

In retrospect it seems almost perverse that my parents forbade me to attend the motion picture in 1961. Obviously, they had not paid the least attention to my listening and reading activities. To this day, I cannot comprehend what compelled them to make that decision: were they afraid I would join a non-existent Marion, Iowa, gang? One must simply put it into the context of a society where any presentation of so-called “deviant” behavior was tantamount to supporting it. I recall hearing a local news commentator years later, upon my return home from college, recounting how he had got up and walked out of the original New York production of
West Side Story. He was obviously quite proud of his act. What a jerk! I remember thinking to myself. Why had he gone to it in the first place?—was he that ignorant of what he had bought tickets to see? How I wished I had had his tickets. But, as I explain elsewhere in these essays, I was not able to travel to New York until I was a junior in college.

Obviously, my parents were, to my way of thinking, demented. And I quickly announced that I was going to another movie—one, if I remember correctly, with much more mature sexual content—and took in, with guilty pleasure, the film of
West Side Story.

In the mid-1990s someone brought Richard Beymer, the original Tony of the film, to one of my regular literary salons. He attended more of my poetry and fiction events after that, and I got to know him a little. Before and immediately after West Side Story—film aficianados will recall—Beymer had played leads in several major films, including So Big, The Diary of Anne Frank, and The Longest Day. But as time passed, he had found fewer and fewer major roles, and during the time I knew him was primarily appearing on television series such Twin Peaks and Murder, She Wrote. What he truly wanted to do was to write, and he left a fiction manuscript with me, containing an interesting mix of fiction and visual collage.

Later, through my companion’s involvement with a memorial devoted to the Hollywood writers who had been blacklisted during the 1950s [see also my essay, “Descent into Hell” in My Year 2003], we met Robert Wise, who with Jerome Robbins directed the movie version of West Side Story.

Los Angeles, June 4, 2004

Monday, March 7, 2011

Douglas Messerli "End of the Road" (on Tennessee Williams' Camino Real)

by Douglas Messerli

Tennessee Williams Camino Real / The Theater at Boston Court, Pasadena, California / the production I saw was on Sunday March 6, 2011

I have always greatly admired the works of Tennessee Williams, having even chosen to publish one of his lesser—and undeservedly ignored—plays in Mac Wellman's and my large drama anthology, From the Other Side of the Century II: A New American Drama 1960-1995 of 1998. That play, The Gnädiges Fraülein of 1966, is perhaps one of his most absurd works, but worth a rereading. More recently, moreover, approaching this centennial year of his birth, I have been fortunate to see some of his earliest, for more romantically-inspired pieces, that has helped to me once again reassess this great dramatist.

After my own reinvestigation of A Streetcar Named Desire in 2009, I was able to see a credible, if not entirely satisfying, revival of The Glass Menagerie, performed in New York in 2009 and in Los Angeles in 2010; Vieux Carré, reconceived by the Wooster Group, a play begun early in Williams' career and finished late; and, now, the seldom produced Camino Real of 1953, in a delightful, if not perfect, production by The Theater at Boston Court, co-produced by the CALARTS School of Theater, with most of the roles by CALARTS students.

The fact that this is primarily a "student" production should not make anyone wince; for years CALARTS has produced some of the most interesting of productions presented in Los Angeles, and the school has spun off numerous younger groups, including the wonderfully inventive Poor Dog Group, whose 2010 production of Brewsie and Willie gets my nomination for the best LA-area play of that year!

Having said that, I can well understand why the 16 blocks (a one act version contains only 10 blocks) of the full-length Camino Real—pronounced deliberately, with Williams' instructions, in the American way, Cámino Rēal, suggesting the real world as opposed to a fantastical one—is seldom revived. Williams' play is a series of fantastic and terrifying scenes that resemble nothing else in theatrical history. Without knowing that I was a critic (we did not speak at all before the first act of 90 minutes), the woman next to me said, in the intermission, "I hope you're going to tell me what this is all about." I assured her I would try.

But, of course, Williams' poetic expressionism cannot be that simply transformed into narrative explanation. A great part of this phantasmagoric world into which he has enwrapped his audience, is better just being experienced instead of analyzed. Indeed there is no true comprehension for the conglomerate of lost souls trapped at the Royal Road, including a wild collection of individuals from time and space, most notably, Don Quixote (Lenny von Dohlen) (whose Sancho has abandoned him upon his entry into the plaza); Marguerite "Camille" Gautier (excellently realized by Marissa Chibas) (the famed courtesan who in Verdi's La Traviata and numerous other versions dies a horrible death of tuberculosis); Giacomo Girolamo Casanova de Seingalt (the noted nobleman lover, more commonly known simply as Casanova); George Gordon Noel Byron (the romantic poet, lover of both Percy Shelly and his wife); Palamède de Guermantes (the Baron de Charlus of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past); and, most notably perhaps, Kilroy (the World War II legend who had been everyone before all the others). Add to these the permanent denizens of this flophouse of a town, the near to stage-manager Gutman (named after Sydney Greenstreet's character in Casablanca); a gypsy fortune-teller and her perpetually virgin daughter, Esmeralda, a pawnshop owner, Rosita the Whore; a blind mother; an effeminate waiter; the proprietor of the Ritz Men Only hotel; Abdullah; Tranny Streetperson (who is literally shot down in the street for fraternizing with others); and the horrifying, ever-present street cleaners, and you have an idea of the zoo-like atmosphere of the 16 scenes that reveal, little by little, the hell that is Camino Real. It is, obviously, a place of horror which will remind some of Tahirir square, Tiananmen Square, or the streets of Tripoli—a place where authorities do not want one to gather.

Except perhaps for Kilroy, all of these individuals share outrageous exploits in love and larger-than-human lives. One might suggest they have all ended up here, from where there is no easy escape, simply because of their gargantuan lusts, their refusals to live life an any level of what might be described as normality. But even in Camino Real, in an endless now with no possibility of redemption, they refuse to give up. A large part of the relationship between Casanova and Camille concerns his insistence that they admit their deep love, and her refusal to give up her many drugs: including cocaine and kif, but also sex and outright infatuation. Time and again, she is robbed, raped, and left for dead, but each time she rises to fall again, unable to stop the cycle of her dramatic spiral into death.

By the time Casanova (wonderfully played by Tim Cummings) has reached this dead end, he is too old to live up to his reputation, and too poor to even maintain—despite his attempt to keep up his appearance in a gold embroidered coat—his lifestyle. By curtain's end he has been thrown out of the best hotel (the Siete Mares run by Gutman) and is forced to take refuge in the cold, narrow bed of the Ritz Men Only, ready to share even that with the equally rejected Kilroy.

One by one we come to see that each character in this god-forsaken place has been eaten up by life and circumstance. They are the grotesques of the world, hardly its heroes, people who, as in nearly every Williams play, have lived too much of their lives in dreams, now like Blanche DuBois of A Streetcar Named Desire, forced to pay the piper.

Only three of the play's characters have any potentiality to escape or redeem themselves. The gypsy woman's daughter has at the least the symbolic possibility of regaining her humanity by undergoing a dance with each full moon that restores her virginity, after which everyone attempts to take it away from her again. But this time round she has chosen the American oaf Kilroy (capably played, in the production I saw by a stand-in, Chris Chiquet) as her lover, the man, who, because of his big heart—"the size of the head of a baby"—has been advised to give up sex, cannot complete the act. And, in that sense, she is freed. She remains a virgin, at least temporarily, falling in love with the memory of his possible sincerity. Swept up into death by the street cleaners, Kilroy returns to her, but she can hear him only as a mewling cat.

The play begins with the arrival of the biggest dreamer of them all, Don Quixote, who like all the others is tired and lonely. Yet Quixote, as we all know, cannot be quelled, and after a good sleep lasting the length of the play, he arises to find a new replacement for Sancho. That he should find the now "nonexistent" (as he may have been always) Kilroy, is perfect. For Kilroy has been throughout a bigger fool than even Quixote, battling the windmills as his enemy. Made to dress like a clown, Kilroy, a disturbingly innocent "patsy" who has lost his championship status, his lover, and, later, the mementos of that life, at least knows the difference between past, present, and future, changing the graffiti of "Kilroy Was Here," to "Kilroy Is Here," and back to past tense as he joins Quixote in his exit.

The only way to leave Camino Real in this production is to climb a small ladder into what appears to be a booth for camera snapshots, as if each has to face the reality of his image before he can escape. For these vain and lost individuals it is a frightening possibility, fraught with all the perils of losing, on top of everything else, one's soul and sanity, that keeps them from attempting the unknown. But with Quixote's faith to support him, Kilroy takes the leap and, as Quixote declares "the violets push through the rock."

Camino Real is not an easy play, either for its cast nor the audience, but it is a beautifully poetic screed, like so many of Williams' works, for those who have lost their ways through their endless desires to live a full life, as well as a prayer that the sinful may not be forgotten by those who consider themselves as among the saintly.

Los Angeles, March 7, 2011