Ten Blocks On the Camino Real @ Ohio Theatre, New York

cast list
Purva Bedi, Satya Bhabha, Curt Hostetter, McKenna Kerrigan, Dara Seitzman, Raphael Nash Thompson

directed by
David Herskovits
If Target Margin Theater’s current production of Tennessee Williams’s Ten Blocks On The Camino Real indeed makes an impression at all, it’s one of complete bafflement.

Ten Blocks, an infrequently revived early version of what would later become simply Camino Real, is a one-act reverie, a dreamscape of a play centered on the gradual demise of washed-up boxer Kilroy, a drifter who unexpectedly finds himself in the mysterious town of Camino Real, a Latin American haze of a place here characterized by splotchy shebet-colored pillars and too-neat placards sprawled across the Ohio Theatre’s expansive, flexible space.
An intentional sense of mystery prevails throughout. When the boxer asks exactly where the Camino Real is, he’s answered that “everybody has to find out for himself.” This is all well and good; several of the performances stand out, particularly Satya Bhabha’s, who, though he’s miscast as a rugged boxer, nonetheless provides the character of Kilroy with a certain vigor and wide-eyed wonderment. Also fine is Purva Bedi as the alluring Esmerelda, the gypsy’s daughter. Nonetheless, the company never quite finds the cohesion it needs to sell this loose, rambling play to an audience hungry for something on par with Williams’s greatest works.

Though the playwright’s aptly melodramatic language often shimmers and pops in ballsy lines like, “We’re all of us guinea pigs in the laboratory of God” and in the tender scenes between Kilroy and Esmerelda, it’s clear that Williams had good reason to revisit and revise the play. Though I’m unfamiliar with the resulting version, Camino Real, it’s hard to imagine there’s much reason to produce this unpolished piece instead other than a sense of Williams completism or theatrical massochism.

The appearance of Don Quixote in the final moments of the play and the mystifying presence of the angel-of-death-style street cleaners throughout only serves to add to the sense of bewilderment this inpenetrable play presents to an audience, which is never allowed to feel at ease in interpreting the proceedings. Though this alienating experience indeed serves to shed light on some of the overarching existential themes the play addresses, it’s also tremendously off-putting.

Patchy use of sound effects by director David Herskovits is also to blame for the bombastic quality of the production, as are the distracting music cues from musical director David Rosenmeyer, who never allows the play’s musical themes to develop sufficiently enough to cohere with Herskovits’s concept for the play.

All in all, the production feels entirely at odds with itself. Williams’s often eloquent language is overpowered by his sense of surreal ambition, and Herskovits’s sound- and music-laden meddling does little to lift the play out of the “curious” category and mold it into something more affecting. The boxer at the center of the proceedings is described as having a “heart in his chest as big as the head of a baby,” but that beating heart is distinctly lacking here in a production that feels more like an intellectual exercise than an effective theatre piece.

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