Thursday, May 10, 2012

"Ten Blocks on the Camino Real" - opens tonight at Charlestown Working Theater

The thirty days are now up - time to visit Camino Real! For our last entry, it's only appropriate that the final words go to Elia Kazan (director of the first Broadway production of the 16 block "Camino Real"), Beau Jest director Davis Robinson, and to Tennessee Williams, creator of this mysterious, magical place.
Elia Kazan:
"The play didn't take place in Mexico or in any other land that can be found in an atlas.  It happens in the topography inside the author's head.  What I got was a lugubrious realistic setting that was, in a word, heavy handed.  And too real.  It made the fantasies that took place inside it seem silly."
Kazan on the play's characters:
"They are all doomed, but Kilroy has a quality the others have lost: He can still struggle to get up when he's knocked down."
Kazan again:
"Camino Real is as private as a nightmare. No playwright except Eugener O'Neill in his last plays was as personal as Tennessee Williams. This play perhaps more than the others --- are about the greatest fears of the author, of distrust and betrayal: distrust of his own fate and of other humans and the betrayal he was certain would come, both from other men, even those close to him, and, because of its anarchy and cataclysmic speed, from time itself."

Kazan's question to Williams:
"Once when I asked him what his play was about, he answered, 'It's the story of everyone's life after he has gone through the razzle-dazzle of his youth. Time is short, baby, it betrays us as we betray eachother. Work, that's all there is! There is terror and mystery on oneside, honor and tenderness on the other."
Davis Robinson:
One of the most fascinating things to read while researching "Ten Blocks" was the public and private correspondence between Tennessee Williams and the show's many supporters and detractors after its reception on Broadway as the 16 block "Camino Real." Although many characters were added and plot points expanded for the Broadway version, both versions share a sensibility that was well articulated by Tennessee in a letter to the New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson after reviews came out:
"…In writing fantasy it is terribly hard to know when you have violated the boundaries of audience acceptance. Some will allow you absolute license, others almost none, and I don't suppose there is any way of assuring a uniform disarmament, no matter how carefully or subtley you prepare them. A lot of the grotesque comedy in this work, and I think that is its dominant element, even though all of it had a serious import back of it, is traceable to the spirit of the American comic strip and the animated cartoons, where the most outrageous absurdities give the greatest delight. I'm sure you've seen the movie cartoons where the characters are blown sky high one moment and are skipping gaily about the next, where various members of their bodies are destroyed and restored in the flicker of the projector, and nobody seems to mind the implausibility of it. I thought that this art-form had softened up my American audiences for the manifest illogicalities of Camino! (More's the pity!) The Messrs. Chapman and Kerr - (I stopped reading the notices after those came out – except for Hawkins which a true friend read over the phone at 3AM when a combination of nembutal and seconal still hadn't worked) - were obviously not willing to be budged one centimeter from the strictest of literal approaches, or at least moralistic attitudes, toward something that literally got down on its knees and begged for imaginative participation."
-- Tennessee Williams
Quotes from the autobiography "Elia Kazan: A Life", published 1997 by Da Capo Press, excerpted by Larry Coen. Photo: Stan Rowin

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

This blog began 29 days ago, providing background information (or dramaturgy, to use the fancy academic term) on Beau Jest Moving Theatre's production of Tennessee Williams' rarely performed "Ten Blocks on the Camino Real," which opens tomorrow at Charlestown Working Theater. Today's next-to-last entry looks at two very important characters in the play.

The Characters in "Ten Blocks on the Camino Real"
The Street Sweepers
As in many Latin American countries, Mexico commemorates the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) or All Souls’ Day on November 2nd. The legacy of past civilizations is graphically manifested on this occasion through people’s beliefs that death is a transition from one life to another where communication exists between the living and the dead. Differing from the Roman Catholic ritual to commemorate All Souls’ Day, the custom established by pre-colonial Mexican civilizations became a ceremony where indigenous beliefs blended with Catholic beliefs. Therefore, the Day of the Dead in Mexico is not a mournful commemoration but a happy and colorful celebration where death takes a lively, friendly expression. Indigenous people believed that souls did not die, that they continued living in Mictlan, a special place to rest. In this place, the spirits rest until the day they could return to their homes to visit their relatives.
Before the Spaniards arrived, they celebrated the return of the souls between the months of July and August. Once arrived, the Spaniards changed the festivities to November 2nd to coincide with All Souls’ Day of the Catholic Church.
Presently, two celebrations honoring the memory of loved ones who have died take place: On November 1st, the souls of the children are honored with special designs in the altars, using the color white on flowers and candles. On November 2nd, the souls of the adults are remembered with a variety of rituals, according to the different states of the Mexican republic. This is an ancestral tradition that blended with Catholicism to create a special time and space to remember and honor the loved ones by offering them an ofrenda, the fragrance of the flowers, the light of the candles, the aroma of special foods and the solemnity of prayers.
It is also a time to joke and make fun of death through "calaveras", poetry allusive to a particular person, generally politicians; sugar, chocolate and amaranth skulls which are given to one another with their friend’s name so "they can eat their own death" and special crafts allusive to different aspects of the living, with skeletons representing daily activities.
It is this last aspect that Tennessee Williams used for his two Street Sweepers, everyday workers who here represent Death, terrifying to the European and North American vistors to the Camino Real.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Characters in "Ten Blocks on the Camino Real"

The Gypsy: It’s difficult to think of a Gypsy and not see the image of a crystal ball or tarot cards. Since their push into Persia, Gypsies/Roma have been linked with fortunetelling. From the Eastern, holistic and magical context to their Indian origins, Gypsies (or Romas), are prized for their remarkable psychic abilities and the gift to attract good fortune or destroy a life with a curse. All are born with such gifts, but what makes their powers so innate is their relationship with nature. Their bond with the spirits of the outdoors allows their gifts to evolve naturally.

Gypsies believe that within their own there are certain ones who posses great power through the ability to perform magic with their special range of knowledge. Within the Roma/Gypsy society they are known as chovihanis. Among the chovihani there are four favorites for fortune telling (or dukkerin`): palm reading, tea leaves, the crystal, and cards. These methods are of a “practical” nature and do not use anything complex or expensive.
Surprisingly, the Roma/Gypsy usually does not consult a chovihani or anyone else for past, present or future knowledge. Nor are the chovihanis held in high esteem because of their gifts; rather it is the money brought in by their gifts that gives them a place of honor within the society.
Palm Reading: Palmistry is the most common divination method. The hands can be considered a simple chart of our lives. The left hand reveals the life we are born with while the right hand is what we make of that life.
Tea Leaves: The questioner begins by drinking Chinese tea from a round white cup. He or she will drink the tea until only a spoonful is left in the cup. With their left hand, the tea is swirled around counter clockwise three times and then turned upside down to drain. The cup is then turned right-side up and passed to the chovihani to read the leaves.
Crystal Ball: The image of a Gypsy huddled over a crystal ball is a familiar one. In reality, the crystal ball is rarely used as it takes much preparation before and during the reading. However, utilizing the crystal ball is an art that can be mastered with dedication and patience. For gazing, a crystal ball, a black cloth (to put the ball upon) a comfortable chair and a table are needed. The trick here is to “gaze” into the ball and not stare. Meditate for as long as need be to quiet your mind, gaze into the ball and interpret the symbolic images that appear.
Tarot Cards: The earliest known tarot deck came from India with the Gypsies introducing them to the world. Many chovihanis use an ordinary deck of playing cards, which were derived from the tarot. A deck of tarot cards consists of seventy-eight richly decorated cards marked with a number of antiquated symbols. The cards are divided into two groups: The Major Arcana, consisting of twenty-two ceremonial pictures of symbolic persons; and the Minor Arcana, fifty-eight cards that represent the four suits. Tarot cards are used to gain insight into a person’s actions and how they relate to the past, present and future circumstances.
Among the Gypsies, the magical arts are almost always practiced by women.
Adapted from: The Mysterious & Magical Gypsy/Roma by Allie Theiss (paper for Middle Eastern Class - 2009

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Characters in "Ten Blocks on the Camino Real"
Marguerite Gautier
"The Lady of the Camellias" (La Dame aux camélias) is an 1848 novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils, son of the man who wrote"The Three Musketeers."  The stage adaptation premiered in 1852 and was an instant success, inspiring Giuseppe Verdi to immediately put the story to music, resulting in the 1853 opera La Traviata.
In the English-speaking world, "The Lady of the Camellias" became known as "Camille" and 16 productions have been performed on Broadway alone. The title character is Marguerite Gautier, who is based on Marie Duplessis, the real-life lover of author Dumas, fils.
"The Lady of the Camellias" is a love story between Marguerite Gautier, a "demi-mondaine", (a woman "kept" by various lovers, frequently more than one at a time) suffering from tuberculosis, and a young provincial bourgeois, Armand Duval. Armand falls in love with Marguerite and ultimately becomes her lover, convincing her to turn her back on her life as a "courtesane" and live with him in the countryside. This idyllic existence is broken by Armand's father, who, concerned by the scandal created by the illicit relationship and fearful that it will destroy his daughter's (Armand's sister's) chances of marriage, convinces Marguerite to leave Armand, who believes, up until Marguerite's death, that she has left him for another man. Marguerite's death is described as an unending agony, during which Marguerite, abandoned by everyone, can only regret what might have been.
Dumas is careful to paint a favourable portrait of Marguerite, who despite her past is rendered virtuous by her love for Armand. The suffering of the two lovers, whose love is shattered by the need to conform to the morals of the times, is rendered touchingly.
The role of the tragic "Marguerite Gautier" became one of the most coveted amongst actresses and included performances by Lillian Gish, Eleonora Duse, Tallulah Bankhead, Eva Le Gallienne, Isabelle Adjani, and especially Sarah Bernhardt, who starred in Paris, London, and several Broadway revivals, plus a 1911 film. It has been filmed in numerous countries and in a wide variety of languages, and has been played on screen by Bernhardt, María Félix, Theda Bara, Alla Nazimova, Greta Garbo, Micheline Presle, Francesca Bertini, Isabelle Huppert, and others.
In the large arena of adaptations, spin-offs and parodies, special mention goes to Charles Ludlam's version, staged first by his own Ridiculous Theatrical Company in 1973, with Ludlam playing the lead in drag, moving his audiences alternately to laughter and tears.
You can read the full texts in the original French and in an English translation at Project Gutenberg. Visit Marguerite Gautier and Armand Duval's Facebook page:
Adapted from:

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Designers of "Ten Blocks on the Camino Real"

We asked our Costume Designer, Fabian Aguilar, to give us a few words about his work on the show.

The biggest excitement for me in costuming this piece for Beau Jest was how all of it's elements reminded me so much of the yearly theater festival my parents would take me to in Mexico as a child. That fed into the inspiration for the costuming, along with old Mexican movies with their pulp magazine compositions, with a splash of 1950's Hollywood, and just a bit of my childhood obsession with Mexican folk artist Jose Guadalupe Posada. 

My job as designer is to help these performers tell a story visually, and in "Ten Blocks on the Camino Real", a play rich with iconic characters and fast changing vignettes, the hardest part is the visual juggling act: you have to design accurately to the character represented, as well as to the practical and physical means of a production. And with the text rich in allegory, metaphor, and symbolism, I tried to revolve the costume design around what garment pieces symbolized each character and still remaining agile enough to let the performer transform fluidly from block to block.

-- Fabian Aguilar

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Characters in "Ten Blocks on the Camino Real"

Giacomo Girolamo Casanova de Seingalt (aka Jacques Casanova), born April 2, 1725, died June 4, 1798, was an Italian adventurer and author. he was so famous as a womanizer that his name remains synonymous with the art of seduction. He associated with European royalty, popes and cardinals, along with luminaries such as Voltaire, Goethe and Mozart.

At the time of Casanova's birth, Venice thrived as the pleasure capital of Europe. the famed carnibval, gambling houses, and beautiful courtesans were powerful drawing cards for young men all over the continent.

On his ninth birthday, Casanova was sent to a boarding house on the mainland in Padua. This neglect by his parents was a bitter memory: "So they got rid of me," he later wrote.

Conditions at the boarding house were appalling, so he appealed to Abbe Gozzi, the priest who was his primary instructor. It was here in the Gozzi household that Casanova first came into contact with the opposite sex, when Gozzi's younger sister Bettina fondled him when he was eleven. "The girl pleased me at once, though I had no idea why. It was she who little by little kindled in my heart the first sparks of a feeling which later became my ruling passion." Although she subsequently married, Casanova maintained a life-long attachment to Bettina and the Gozzi family.

Casanova's growing curiosity about women led to his first complete sexual experience with two sisters, then fourteen and sixteen. He proclaimed that his life avocation was firmly established by this encounter.

He entered the University of Padua and graduated with a degree in law at age seventeen. He also studied moral philosophy, chemistry, mathematics, music, and was keenly interested in medicine.

At the age of 21, he set out to become a professional gambler but losing all his money, he turned to his old benefactor Alvise Grimani, who found him a job as violinist in the San Samuele theater.

At age 30, Casanova was arrested "for public outrages against the holy religion." Without a trial, he was sentenced to five years in an "unescapable" prison. During exercise walks, he found a piece of black marble and an iron bar which he smuggled back to his cell, spending weeks sharpening the bar into a spike on the marble stone. After his escape, he left behind an ironic note that quoted the 117th Psalm: "I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord."

Casanova travelled to England, hoping to sell his idea of a state lottery to English officials, working his way up to an audience with George III. He also spent much time in the bedroom. As a means to find females for his pleasure, not speaking English, he put an ad in a newspaper to rent an apartment to the "right" person. He interviewed many young women, choosing one "Mistress Pauline" who suited him well. Soon, he established himself in her apartment and seduced her. These and other liaisons, however, left him weak with venereal disease and he left England broke and ill.

His return to Venice was a cordial one and he was treated as a celebrity. Even the Inquisitors wanted to hear how he had escaped from their prison. But no financial opportunities came about. At age 49, the years of reckless living and the thousands of miles of travel had taken their toll. His easygoing manner was now more guarded.

In 1785, Casanova became the librarian to a Bohemian Count, but the Count often ignored him at meals and failed to introduce him to important visitig guests, and he was thoroughly disliked by most of the other inhabitants of the castle. Casanova's only friends in Bohemia seemed to be his fox terriers. In despair, Casanova considered suicide, but instead decided that he must live on to record his memoirs, which he did until his death at age 73. His last words were "I have lived as a philosopher and I die as a Christian."

For more than two hundred years since his death, Casanova has been best known for his prowess in seduction, but he was recognized during his life as an extraordinary person, a man of far-ranging intellect and curiosity. He was a true adventurer, a lawyer, clergyman, military officer, violinist, con man, pimp, gourmand, dancer, businessman, diplomat, spy, politician, medic, mathematician, social philosopher, cabalist, playwright, and writer.

Born of actors, he had a passion for the theater and for an improvised, theatrical life. But with all his talents, he frequently succumbed to the quest for pleasure and sex, often avoiding sustained work, and got himself into trouble when prudent action would have served him better. His true occupation was living largely on his quick wits, steely nerves, luck, social charm, and the money given to him in gratitude and by trickery.

Freely adapted from Wikipedia.
For more, visit:

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

An Excerpt from "The Sculptural Drama":Tennessee Williams's Plastic Theatre
By Richard E. Kramer

In his production notes to The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams introduces a concept that describes the theatre for which he was writing:
Being a "memory play," The Glass Menagerie can be presented with unusual freedom of convention. Because of its considerable delicate or tenuous material, atmospheric touches and subtleties of direction play a particularly important part. Expressionism and all other unconventional techniques in drama have only one valid aim, and that is a closer approach to truth. When a play employs unconventional techniques, it is not, or certainly shouldn't be, trying to escape its responsibility of dealing with reality, or interpreting experience, but is actually or should be attempting to find a closer approach, a more penetrating and vivid expression of things as they are. The straight realistic play with its genuine Frigidaire and authentic ice-cubes, its characters who speak exactly as its audience speaks, corresponds to the academic landscape and has the same virtue of a photographic likeness. Everyone should know nowadays the unimportance of the photographic in art: that truth, life, or reality is an organic thing which the poetic imagination can represent or suggest, in essence, only through transformation, through changing into other forms than those which were merely present in appearance. These remarks are not meant as a preface only to this particular play. They have to do with a conception of new, plastic theatre which must take the place of the exhausted theatre of realistic conventions if the theatre is to resume vitality as a part of our culture.

Today, plastic theatre is not a particularly rare application. It is what Meyerhold, Eisenstein, and Brecht were after, and directors like Robert Wilson, Richard Foreman, Peter Brook, and Yuri Lyubimov, and groups such as Théâtre du Soleil, Théâtre de Complicité, Ex Machina, Wooster Group, Mabou Mines, and Théâtre de la Jeune Lune do it all the time. Now, these artists are not strictly playwrights, though they function as auteurs, and the companies work as collaborative ensembles in creating their works, but that may be closer to what Williams had in mind than a conventional dramatist-director symbiosis. Certainly the plastic playwright would have to have more control over the production than Williams managed to get in 1944. Even on Broadway today, however, there could not have been M Butterfly, say, or The Invention of Love without plastic theatre. What makes Williams's 1945 expression remarkable is that, first, he is often not regarded in such terms even though he wanted to be and, second, he was writing at a time when straightforward realism was the dominant style on American stages, and the Actors Studio—the creation, in part, of Elia Kazan and the nurturer of Marlon Brando, both part of Williams's early, defining success—was the paradigm for American acting and production.