Told that the rarely performed play was by one of the great 20th-century playwrights, you'd guess the author was Tom Stoppard before Tennessee Williams. The 40-character limbo-land puzzler mashes up Don Quixote (Lenny Von Dohlen), Casanova (Tim Cummings), Lord Byron (Michael Aurelio) and the Hunchback of Notre Dame's gypsy femme fatale Esmeralda (Kalean Ung) in the town of Camino Real (pronounced KA-mino REE-al
, à la gringo, so as to distinguish it from the country of CaMIno ReAL
just next door). Inside the gates, the hamlet is divided further still between the Haves, who sip brandy with Gutman (Brian Tichnell) at his sumptuous hotel, and the Have-Nots, who lay their heads at the fleabag Ritz Men Only, or worse. Between them, there are enough liars and whores that a chipper innocent like Kilroy (the fantastic Mike Goodrich), a former boxing champ with a heart as big as a baby, is humbled within 10 minutes of hitting town. But this isn't about his escape. It's about his destruction and whether he and the rest of the captives will be able to face their fate when the murderous cleaners (Frank Raducz Jr. and Murphy Martin) come to sweep them away. The only people not trying to leave town are the people too damaged to try, a motley crew of pawnbrokers, pickpockets and a taco salesman whom director Jessica Kubzansky keeps in motion, each slipping out in time to pop up in another role. Camino Real
is most famous for bombing on Broadway in 1953 and temporarily tarnishing the careers of Williams and director Elia Kazan. (There's even a play about the flop, The Really Big Once
, which opened last fall in New York.) Williams' episodic structure lacks momentum, particularly in the second act during a long scene between Kilroy and Esmeralda (who needs more heat). But the decades have given us a better perspective on the questions Williams, then at the anxious peak of his stage career, was asking himself: Can you still love when you're old and cynical? Can art survive amid crass capitalism? And is being a former talent a source of pride or shame? Kubzansky's ensemble is outstanding, even wringing a knowing chuckle from the faux-naif line, "Why does disappointment make people unkind?" With all technical contributions including Silvanne E.B. Park's costumes hitting high marks, Camino Real
is a curiosity that you're not likely to see again let alone this well. Theater @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through March 13. (626) 683-6883, bostoncourt.com.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Feb. 12. Continues through March 13, 2011