Photo by Richard Fleischman
Erik Knutson and Sara Richardson as Kilroy and Esmeralda
Reviewing a 1970 revival of Camino Real, critic Clive Barnes of The New York Times called it “Tennessee Williams’s best play.” But it remains one of his least-produced plays, because it is also his strangest. “It’s a pretty tricky play,” says director Ben McGovern. “It’s not done very often and often not done well.” That’s because it’s a heady cocktail of love and desire, says McGovern, but it can also be “a big mess.”
Locally, Camino Real has never been professionally staged, but Girl Friday Productions is changing that. Girl Friday is a unique company in that it only produces one show every two years, the last of which—Street Scene by Elmer Rice—won an Ivey Award in 2011.
The play is perplexing because it’s “a dream play,” says McGovern. The tale is populated with such legendary historical and literary characters as Casanova, Camille, Lord Byron, and Don Quixote, as well as people from Williams’s imagination. “A body on stage can be a historical figure, like Byron, and a metaphor, like the longing to escape the banality of life, and a beacon for the other characters—all at the same time. I want to invite audiences into the dream in the mind of Williams, but make it substantial enough so that they feel they’ve been on a journey.”
Williams wrote the play in three acts, but not in scenes; rather, he structures it in 16 “blocks” along the Camino Real (King’s Highway). The stroll down this road becomes the journey. “When I read it, there was something mysterious in the play, something that made me want to lean in and listen. I want to take that curiosity and expand it for the audience.” July 5–27. Minneapolis Theatre Garage, 711 Franklin Ave. W., Mpls., 612-729-1071, girlfridayproductions.org