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Theater and Dance

Robinson's Theatre Company Brings Rare Tennessee Williams Play Back to the Stage

Story posted May 09, 2012

Image: Theater professor Davis Robinson directing Beau Jest's original staging of Ten Blocks on the Camino Real.

Fresh from the success of The Glass Menagerie, and while still working on A Streetcar Named Desire in New Orleans, Tennessee Williams wrote a pivotal play in 1946 that few have ever seen: Ten Blocks on the Camino Real. A revised version opened on Broadway in 1953.

It flopped...and the original, Ten Blocks version of Camino Real subsequently became an obscurity in the theatrical performance landscape.

Now, almost 60 years later, the award-winning Beau Jest Moving Theatre of Boston is bringing its faithful adaptation of the rarely seen Williams fantasy back to the stage, including a three-day run in Maine.

The play is directed by Beau Jest founder and artistic director Davis Robinson, professor of theater at Bowdoin.

The Williams estate granted Beau Jest permission to fully stage the original Ten Blocks on the Camino Real and restore this missing link in Williams' canon, which many pinpoint as a pivotal event in the playwright's development.

"Tennessee was at his prime as a writer, interested, even then, in experimental work," notes Robinson.

Both Williams and director Elia Kazan felt the original script held great promise for a new direction in American theater. So why did Williams' original hopes go unfulfilled?

"I think in one sense it's because Broadway was the only option," says Robinson. "There really was no Off-Broadway scene at the time. And this short, mysterious play was re-written to sell it to the mass market as a three-act epic."

The untraditional play was, perhaps, a bit ahead of its time.

"Tennessee wanted to start a new movement, something he called 'plastic theater,'" Robinson explains. "He wanted theater that could do on stage what modern art was doing in the art world, using all the elements of light, sound, dance, music and poetry together to creatively express the human condition without being limited by the dictates of naturalism or dramatic realism. If the original Ten Blocks had premiered off-Broadway a decade later, rather than on Broadway as Camino Real, the play might have a very different reputation now." [Watch an interview with Davis Robinson below.]

Kathleen Lewis, a member of Bowdoin's class of 2010, portrays Esmerelda. Photo by Robert Deveau.
Kathleen Lewis, a member of Bowdoin's class of 2010, portrays Esmerelda. Photo by Robert Deveau.

The Beau Jest production boasts a full design team, an original score by Don Dinicola, a cast of nine actors and three musicians, plus masks, puppets, dance, an interactive set, and a range of vocal techniques to fully stage every detail of the play.

The cast includes Bowdoin alumni Kathleen Lewis '10, Colin Dieck '04, Jordan Harrison '04, Ellen Powers '06, and Robin Smith '05. Set design is by Judy Gailen, research associate in the Department of Theater and Dance, and mask/puppet designs are by adjunct instructor Libby Marcus.

Ten Blocks on the Camino Real will be presented Thursday through Saturday, May 24 through 26, 2012, at Lucid Stage, 29 Baxter Boulevard, in Portland. For more information and tickets, call 207-899-3993.

The show first opens May 10 and runs through May 20 at the Charlestown Working Theater in Massachusetts, Beau Jest's home stage. Read a preview in the May 3, 2012, Boston Globe.