During his lifetime, Brazilian playwright Nelson Rodrigues (1912-1980) was an innovator in Brazil's theatrical world. He was a genre-buster who helped change his country's stage scene with plays that skewered Rio de Janeiro's society through his caustic and cynical point of view.
Though many of his critics dismissed him as "pornographic" due to his sexually charged work, he is today remembered as one of the most influential writers of his generation.
In celebration of his centennial, the New York-based Group.BR staged a five-day residence of Rodrigues' final play, The Serpent (A Serpente).
First staged in Brazil in 1979, the one-act "Carioca Tragedy" centers on two married sisters who share the same 12th floor apartment in Rio de Janeiro.
Ligia (Andressa Furletti) is miserable and suicidal because her husband Decio (Modesto Lacen) has been unable to consummate their relationship after one year of marriage.
Guida (Monica Steuer) , on the other hand, is on a permanent state of bliss with her husband Paulo (Thiago Felix), and Ligia can hear her climaxing every night through the thin wall that separates their bedrooms.
With Decio out of the picture after a violent fight, Guida offers her sister the opportunity to sleep with her Paulo so she will be able to - at least for one night - feel what happiness is all about.
Ligia and Paulo are reluctant to go on with it, but after the 'experiment' things start going south: Guida is regretful for her idea, and grows more and more paranoid as she suspects that Paulo and Guida are taking things beyond the agreed period.
There is also a bit of a subplot involving the newly single Decio, who finds himself involved with a lady (Debora Balardini) who does peoples' laundry for a living.
Grupo BR's production was spoken in Portuguese with overhead titles in English. There is little staging except for a few props (scattered shoes and a suitcase) and a semi see-thorough screen representing both the division between the two bedrooms and the ledge.
The roles were demanding, as the actors not only had to emote but to perform arduous physical tasks that included jumping, falling and the climatic (albeit fully clothed) sex scene between Paulo and Guida and Ligia's later journey into madness.
The audience was fully involved with the play, and the 90 minutes went by quite quickly. When the play reached its dramatic ending, the players were given a standing ovation.
All the actors were great, but kudos specially goes to Puerto Rican-born Modesto Lacen, who learned basic Portuguese skills especially for the complex supporting role of Decio.
Group BR has as a goal of "bringing Brazilian culture" to audiences who might not be familiar with works of the country's playwrights.
According to their website, the group "aims to disseminate the Brazilian language sound by performing plays in their native tongue" and give international audiences the opportunity to "to appreciate the still unknown Brazilian dramaturgy."
It is surely a daunting task, but judging from this first production, we will be looking forward to see what else this group has waiting in the wings.
The Serpent (A Serpente),
By Nelson Rodrigues
With Andressa Furletti, Mônica Steuer, Thiago Felix, Modesto Lacen and Débora Balardini.
Directed by Debora Balardini
Teatro LATEA - Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center
107 Suffolk Street, 2nd floor, NY
July 12 to 15,
Ernest Barteldes is a freelance writer based on Staten Island, New York. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.