We know a couple of things about Tennessee Williams. He drank. A lot. Really a lot. He often explained away the booze as his means of quieting the dark voices in his head -- understandable coming from the man who wrote The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire.
We also know that Williams wrote. A lot. Really a lot. He famously woke every morning at 9 and started typing away; 24 full-length plays, a whole raft of one-acts, short stories, poems, screenplays and even two novels. Those were dark voices, but compelling for sure.
I bring all this up to find an excuse for what comes next. Tennessee Williams is my favorite playwright and, as such, I feel the need to apologize for some of the work that isn't, um, my favorite.
Such as his 1953 play Camino Real, receiving a local production by the Conservatory Theatre Company of Point Park University. Really the nicest thing to be said about Camino Real is that when you drank as much as he did and wrote as much as he did, sooner or later you're bound to turn out something like Camino Real.
Set in an unnamed, possibly Mexican resort town, the play is about an assorted group of desperate, despairing individuals aching to leave, but who know that, in truth, they never will.
It is bad, certainly, but it is Tennessee Williams Bad -- outrageously proportioned, at times nearly incomprehensible in its oblique and hazy poetic intentions. There are fictional characters created by Williams and fictional characters borrowed by Williams. (The cast includes Don Quixote, Camille, Casanova and, oddly, Lord Byron.) It's three acts of Williams completely lost inside his own head, and I don't think any production could ever make this script work.
And that certainly goes for this Point Park production, directed with a sledgehammer by George Ferencz. Perhaps as maddened as I am by Williams' poetic fugue, Ferencz picks a point in each scene (sometimes in the writing, sometimes not) and just pounds it home with screamingly obvious costume, music, light and set choices, as well as calling forth a relentlessly didactic acting style from the company.
I hesitate to mention this because Williams was constantly rewriting, but Camino Real, with all its insurmountable flaws, has one of my favorite Williams' moments. It's when the aging, physically and emotionally exhausted Camille says: "My heart is too tired to break."
But that line and moment isn't in this production. The company may be using a later script, or maybe Ferencz realized that such a quiet, subtle spot would be out of place in the three-ring circus of theatrical wackiness he's staging. David A. Berry, Grace Flaherty, Marquis Johnson, Mia Parillo and Zuri Washington turn in strong performances, although most are about 50 years too young to be in a play about end-of-life sorrow. (Which also makes it an odd choice for a college production.)
In the Olympics of Bizarre, Ferencz has gone up against Williams and I'm not sure anybody can be said to have won.
Camino Real continues through Dec. 12. Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland. 412-621-4445 or www.pittsburghplayhouse.com
- Photo courtesy of Drew Yenchak.
- He was here: David A. Berry portrays "Kilroy" in Point Park Conservatory Theatre Company's Camino Real.