The original Camino Real, first produced on Broadway under Elia Kazan’s direction in 1953, took up the stories of several individuals grouped around Camino Real, pronounced real as in reallyreal in Target Margin’s brilliant production.  Following an early version of the play, David Herskovitz chooses to focus on one:  Kilroy, a former light-weight boxing champion, now an itinerant American who lands in the plaza of a patently violent Mexican town at fiesta time.  His pesos are stolen fast, nor do we have much hope that he’ll hang on to the mementos of the past before he was a has-been, a champion’s belt around his waist and the golden gloves looped over his shoulders.

But will he hold on to his life?

He has a life-threatening enlarged heart which has ruled out boxing and sex, forcing him to abandon a promising career and, out of compassion (poetically, large heart), to leave a wife he loves so as not to disappoint or burden her.  For Kilroy, sexual abstinence is not only physically wise but spiritually essential — it’s the link of loyalty to the woman he loves.  But his arrival coincides with the festal night when the Gypsy’s daughter becomes a virgin once again, and picks her man.  This time it’s Kilroy.  He resists, and ultimately succumbs to her seduction, while her mother relieves him of the last ten bucks from sale of his mementos.  The ending, where the realms of reality and yearning share the stage, worlds apart but back to back, is sublime.

The production has a satisfying pop-comic-nostalgic visual unity, something like Red Grooms would cast over a Mexican plaza.  The steady golden light casts an appealing glow over the set, suggestive rather than constructed, and the wonderful actors, Satya Bhabha as Kilroy, Purva Bedi as Esmeralda and others, Curt Hostetter as Gutman and others, McKenna Kerrigan as Marguerite Gautier and others, Raphael Nash Thompson as Jacques Casanova and others, with Dara Seitzman as the Guitar player weaving her way Siren-like among the characters and through the scenes.  I found myself looking for an indication of the heroic sculpture that would be in the middle of a Mexican plaza.  The costumes and props are witty and touching:  the helmet made of vegetable steamer baskets wrought into the instantly recognizable shape of Don Quixote‘s deserves a place in the costume hall of fame.

I never saw the full Camino Real but I doubt it could be more powerful than this one that David Herskovitz has honed down to a single focus, all the more likely since the original production seemed at the time confusing and disparate.  Target Margin comes off two years of immersion in classical works; that experience, and Herskovitz’ deep knowledge of the classics, must lie behind the remarkable unifying thrust brought to this production of a modern playwright.  Aristotle’s unities of action, time and place are at work here on Camino Real — the plaza rather than the full ten blocks.  Herskovitz has shaped the play in a way that if anything intensifies the lyrical poetry of Tennessee Williams’ vision of human frailty.  This production is a rare theatrical opportunity.

Target Margin’s Ten Blocks on the Camino Real plays at the Ohio Theater, 66 Wooster Street in SoHo, January 14 through January 31.

Nearby restaurant favorite: Via dei Mille, 357 West Broadway

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