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A Heart as Big as a Baby’s Head: ‘Camino Real’ @ The Goodman Theatre

You know you’re experiencing good theatre when patrons are walking out because of moral objection rather than poor quality. The Goodman Theatre serves up a very intriguing interpretation of a lesser known Tennessee Williams gem. Camino Real (pronounced re-AL) is a complex drama with a short production history since its initial 1953 debut. This rare production is the brainchild of Goodman artistic director Bob Falls’ pairing of Calixto Bieito and Marc Rosich. Bieito, who is best known for his often unconventional mountings of classic plays and operas, transforms Williams’ text into a stimulating and provocative occasion that will be hard to forget.

In an interview with Playbill, Spanish playwright Marc Rosich says of the play, “It’s not a play based on plot, but a play focused on poetry and the power of words and images.” For theatergoers mostly familiar with Williams’ usual canon of realism i.e. A Streetcar Named Desire, this work may come as a challenge. Though not entirely plot driven, Williams’ poetic dialogue drenched with heartache and desperation leaves willing participants breathless. The story of this play will not be found without truly investing in the sorrowful monologues of its characters. The directing duo has also added a new element, song. Without being a full blown musical, the team has created a unique motif by intermixing Spanish and American contemporary classics within the action.

With great patience comes great reward, and the dazzling set created by Rebecca Ringst perfectly captures the mood of Camino Real and will surely resonate with audiences. Abstract displays of the seedy, American, underbelly are captured in a backdrop of neon signs, giant disco balls and more luggage than the O’Hare baggage claim. At once we are transported from the seemingly empty desert to this netherworld with a device as simple as the scattering of papers, a theme further explored by the narrator.

Not to be outdone by this extravagant set is the powerful cast of Chicago stars. Both disturbing and oddly satisfying is Barbara Robertson’s portrayal of Rosita, a down-and-out prostitute looking for love. Marilyn Dodds Frank delivers several monologues that cut to the quick in her portrayal of famous literary character Marguerite Gautier, love-starved and damned for eternity to the Camino Real. At the play’s center is Kilroy, a washed up prizefighter played by Antwayn Hopper. Hopper’s performance is extremely moving with both heart and emotional arc, his final monologue is enough to make you weep. For all the characters trapped inside this abstract world of pain and fear, none is more relatable than Michael Medeiro’s portrayal of the Williams-like narrator, who puts this show into perspective with book-ending monologues.

For theatergoers looking for a night of good, clean, fun, maybe this is not the show for you. As a warning, this show contains scenes and images of graphic sexual and violent nature. Though explicit in some cases, under Bieito’s direction the imagery never becomes gratuitous, however some may find parts offensive. This is a play for audiences looking for a world in which people speak in poetry even if what they’re saying is unpleasant, because at its core allegory is created in the pursuit of truth.

Catch Camino Real before is closes on April 8th in the Albert space at The Goodman Theatre. The Goodman Theatre is located at 170 N Dearborn Street. Tickets run $23 to $67, student pricing is $10 day of the show. For tickets call 312.443.3800.