Friday, September 16, 2011

"Camino" from the Hiawatha Project

"Camino", directed and written by Anya Martin, follows characters through privatized prisons, a reality in America, and hell which the system inflicts upon its prisoners and their family. Private prisons have been around since 1983 and generate billions of dollars in profit, typically cutting costs by denying prisoners basic human amenities like water or enough food. Prisoners can also be moved from prison to prison, practically un-regulated, so even locating a husband or father, can be extremely difficult (let alone getting them legal help or documents).

"Camino", as it stands now after about three years development is large in scope. Sharing the stage with the prisoners is a flock of intrepid birds, played by humans in cultural Spanish dress, which gives a mythical air to the piece. The bird scenes may actually be too indulgent in the many psychological ideas they present. But the idea of connections being cut off, whether geographical, emotional or physical, actually disrupts the pattern of nature itself is extremely relevant to the piece.

The play definitely stands cohesively on its feet. It possesses inspired lighting, beautiful sound design, a deceptively simple-looking set and a superb multi-media setup of camera and graphics at a level of expertise seldom seen actually working on cue in a theatre, let alone a converted theatre space. The Dance Alloy Studio Theatre is expertly used to its fullest extent, giving the actor levels and boundaries to play and react to. Any audience seeing "Camino" will know they are watching a combined effort put on by professionals.

It is difficult t o mention all the great performances of a cast of twelve, but special note should be made of Monteze Freeland delivers us what is arguably the most heart-breaking character and then becomes the childish comic-relief, often in back-to-back scenes. His performance as the Congo refugee "Kenney" is so powerful it devours the first act, and makes you think perhaps Kenney should be the subject of his own play. Claudia Duran also turns in strong performance as Estrella, the intrepid wife of an illegal alien behind bars. Again, these are two of a VERY gifted and remarkable ensemble cast.

Much has been made about the true story inspiring "Camino", at the play's heart is the true story of Milton Mejia and his wife, Stephany. Milton, an ex-student of Martin, was separated from his wife and deported. His only crime was that he had entered the US illegally. While the basic description of the play, "Two Men Missing. Two women risking everything to find them", eventually comes to fruition, it takes about an hour into the two-hour, ten-minute run for that point to be reached.  

It’s sad it takes so long to get the ball rolling, because great performances such as Gab Cody as Renee, the American archetype who is not cruel but ignorant of the world outside of her own, don’t get seen or explored until much later – probably when the audience is already emotionally drained from the beginning of Act 1. Act 2, by comparision, is almost sparse. Pacing like that points to “Camino” not quite being out of development just yet. The reason the play takes so long to get started is that "Camino" spends a lot of time setting up a Skynet-meets-Big-Brother world of ID bracelets for even legal aliens, and a "Government Private Sector" in the Southwest where even American Citizens can be thrown into illegal alien detention.

The reason for this is clear, Martin wants to heighten all the paranoia, regulation, sea of red-tape to a proportion where we, the audience, might begin to feel the claustrophobia of the hunted. I will not say it corrupts the message of “Camino”, but it does broaden it considerably. However, one has to think that if the state of privatized prisons are so inhuman and the situation of the prisoners already so dire, wouldn't an accurate portrayal of the horror of privatized prisons are now be more sufficient? Being steeped in our real, immediate world might inspire its audience to rise to actual action instead of leaving the theatre glad that the world of "Camino", with ID bracelets and the like, does not exist…


"Camino" by Anya Martin
Sept 15th - 24th

Alloy Dance Theater
5530 Penn Avenue,
Pittsburgh, PA 15206

 Tickets may be purchased at:

- The Eponymous Theatre Critic graduated from the Moscow Art Theatre in 1943 after founding the Moscow Art Theatre in 1898. Now retired, Epony enjoys white-water rafting and breeding peacocks competitively.

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