TEN BLOCKS AND NO ROOM FOR POETRY
by Harvey Perr
published January 23, 2009
Ten Blocks on the Camino
now playing Off Broadway at the Ohio Theater
through January 31
Tennessee Williams was a poet; a very good one, but, among American playwrights, he was our greatest poet. Often, when everything
around him seemed to crumble in one way or another, his poetry sustained him; it was his connection to the world and it was what protected
him from that world. And, although all his plays, the great ones and the ones that have still to be re-discovered, soared with the grandeur
and sheer beauty of his language, he wrote only one play that could be considered purely poetic, Camino Real, a work which has always seemed, even in productions that fully embraced its complex
ambitions, overripe and out of control.
So, when I read Ten Blocks on the Camino Real, the one-act play that was the source of
the full-length Camino Real, I felt that, on paper, at least, it was a more tightly controlled
and more fluid play. But now that I have seen a production of it – although, in truth, I have merely seen the distracting Target Margin
Theater production, which may not count – it seems clear that the longer version allowed the work, as poetic drama, to blossom and bloom.
In either version, it is a cry from the heart – indeed, the human heart of Kilroy is literally at the center of the piece and even more so
in the shorter version – and its lost souls – living, dead, fictional – are desperately trying to hold onto their self-created illusions,
despite the presence of garbage men who are always on the ready to sweep them into the gutter. It should come as no surprise that Williams
quoted Oscar Wilde’s famed line about all of us being in the gutter while some of us were reaching for the stars.
But, if singing the praises of Williams and his poetry suggests that one should see Ten
Blocks on the Camino Real, I am sorry to have misguided the reader. This is a sloppily directed, woefully miscast, totally bizarre
interpretation, which only hints at its ideas (the best of which is the unstoppable beating heart), and which makes a lot of noise without
ever finding the dynamic that could conceivably propel it into theatrical action. And its one perfect scene – Kilroy’s seduction of
Esmeralda, the gypsy’s daughter who easily regains her virginity on an annual basis – is played with no sense whatever of the kind of sexual
intimacy that is involved in the “lifting of the veil.”
When Elia Kazan worked on the play at the Actors Studio, he and Williams not only extended the play, but they added the character
of Lord Byron, who, even in a state of moral decay and physical deterioration, boldly strode forward to “attempt voyages,” an idea that is
echoed visually if not verbally in Ten Blocks when Don Quixote makes a brief appearance at the
end. But what voyage can be attempted on a sinking ship?
harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com