His agent advised him against ever publishing the thing. His longtime directorial collaborator, the late Elia Kazan, nailed it when he called it “an imperfect play.” And yet, playwright Tennessee Williams’ “Camino Real,” a critical and commercial dud when first produced in 1953, should not be dismissed. Indeed, as is often the case, here is an example of lesser-known and under-par work from a great dramatist that nonetheless remains more than a fascinating footnote of failure from the same writer of “The Glass Menagerie” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”; it’s a kaleidoscope of expressionism, lyricism and despair receiving a rare and overdue Chicago revival courtesy of Mom and Dad Productions. “Camino Real” takes place in an unnamed Latin American country in which a coterie of historical and fictional figures from different eras have converged: Cervantes’ Don Quixote; Dumas’ Lady of the Camellias Marguerite Gautier; Lord Byron; Casanova. There’s also an American boxer with a heart of gold, literally, a Laurel and Hardy-like pair of harmonica-playing street cleaners who periodically exhume dead bodies from this inescapable no-man’s land and a cynical hotel proprietor cum narrator who introduces the play’s sixteen vignettes, each of which occur on sixteen blocks around the Camino Real square. Does it all make sense? Not always. Does that matter? Not really. Subverting plot and fully developed characters for mood and entertaining archetype, the play is one big allegory for the nightmarish idea that real life, like the imagined Camino Real, is an inescapable prison ready to crush the lonely, desperate and romantic individual, a theme that the playwright would continue to explore throughout the rest of his life. Thankfully, the overriding attitude of director Joe Feliciano’s carnival-like production is one of hopefulness, humor—albeit macabre—and steely determination that gently mocks and stands in ironic counterpoint to most of Williams’ text. In addition, there are memorable performances, especially from Casey Freund as the laid-back Kilroy, Petrucia Finkler as the sympathetic Marguerite and Bato Prostran as the oily hotel proprietor. Like the play, this revival of “Camino Real” is far from perfect. But it’s a ballsy decision on the part of Mom and Dad to stage it in the first place and, luckily, one that pays off. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
“Camino Real” runs at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 North Southport, (312)902-1500, through September 15.