Impassioned 'Camino' tells painful immigration stories
Share with others:
In theater, "Camino" mainly recalls a play by Tennessee Williams, ironically titled "Camino Real" (royal road), in reference to the more or less royal roads of Hispanic history in California, Mexico and further south.
This ambitious new play by Anya Martin of the Hiawatha Project doubtless makes the same ironic reference. But her "Camino" refers more specifically to a series of interwoven roadways or journeys and is also, in a poignant metaphor, the name given by a prisoner to a small bird, now caged, now free.
The play's ambition is such that it tells three stories, sometimes in parallel and eventually intertwining in an ending that is not really an ending, given the painful subject matter: our country's nonsensical, coercive and sometimes brutal immigration policy. Or perhaps such a series of practices should hardly be dignified by being called a policy at all.
The three stories start with Andoni and Estrella, married immigrants torn apart by the for-profit prison-security complex (a story based on real people, as explained in two previous Post-Gazette stories). The second is the parallel tale of Justin and Renee, yuppie Americans separated only by allegiance to New York and Chicago, but who also get caught up in the horrors of that same complex. And the third is about a flock of five birds trying to migrate north over and through a landscape made unrecognizable by pollution -- trying to reclaim their bird's-eye view, that is, which comments ironically on the surveillance cameras that are becoming more ubiquitous.
If that seems like a lot to intertwine in one play, yes, it is. But the flock of birds and their travails (not to mention travels), while the part of the play that could most benefit from pruning, provide a poetic metaphor that helps us understand, or at least come to emotional terms with, the coercive and largely secret practices carried out in our name.
To reveal that secrecy is doubtless a motive of the play. We should all be ashamed of the commercial outsourcing of much of our security apparatus and the creation of a huge for-profit prison industry. Anger about that was my chief emotional response to the play.
But beyond that, there are scenes of imagination and poetic insight. Some of the prison scenes have flashes of emotional truth. The relationship between Justin and Renee has a goofy comedy that underlines our (perhaps willful) ignorance of policies carried out in our name. And those birds have truths to imply, thought they needn't be so long at it.
Beyond all that, "Camino" is ambitious in its staging, with some impressive projections (the apparatus of the prison state) and seemingly live camera work.
The cast of 12, with many playing multiple roles, is too large to comment on individually in a compact review, just as the complex script is too rife with allusions to and parallels with other works.
Some performers stand out. But some are baffled by the wretched acoustics of the Dance Alloy studio where they perform, on top of the accents they use, so you can understand them only in outline.
But the story is clear, strong and impassioned.
First Published September 23, 2011 12:00 am