Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Of all Williams’s plays, Camino Real was the one he most wished people to see onstage rather than read in a book. It was, as the playwright stated, the one most suited to the “vulgarity of performance.” Accordingly, he saw this vulgarity as part of the excitement and intensity of live theater, a theater meant for seeing and for feeling once the pattern was set in motion. Indeed, rather than exist as dead words on a page, Camino Real, according to Williams, should appear as “the quick interplay of live beings, suspended like fitful lightning in a cloud.”

Judging from both newspaper reviews and audience reaction, Camino Real baffled and exasperated a large number of people, a response that both confused and hurt the playwright. Indeed, Williams claimed that he was being quite serious and that he never supposed that the play would seem obscure and confusing to anyone who was willing to give it a chance. Still, audiences walked out on the play in droves, demanding that the action needed clarification.

For his part, Williams remained unapologetic. He did not agree that the play needed an explanation, declaring that as a work of art, a play should just be rather than mean something. Nevertheless, a number of critics attacked Williams for what they saw as an excessive use of symbolism, to which the playwright could only reply that symbols existed as the natural speech of drama. For Williams, then, a symbol had only one legitimate purpose: to say something more directly, simply, and beautifully than it could be said in words. Symbols, he argued, were the purest language of plays: It would take page after page of tedious exposition to render an idea that instead could be conveyed on a lighted stage with a simple object or gesture.

In the end, Williams accepted the fact that the untraditional narrative of Camino Real would never appeal to theater patrons whose tastes were more domestic and simple. As a play, Camino Real threatened established conventions, dismantling classical expectations as it forged a new sense of artistic freedom. Although Williams never claimed to have written a great play, he did wish his audiences to share in the sense of release and liberty he had experienced while writing it.