paraty II: the grand finale

I can say with some pride that this is the first post on this blog which merits the distinction (mildly) NSFW.  Thanks, Zé Celso!

The lowdown on my initiation into the Brazilian theatre scene, after the jump.

The grand finale of FLIP was a performance by Teatro Oficina, previously noted with some curiosity because the tickets specified that minors should not attend.  At 4:30 on the last day of FLIP, I found myself back in the telão for the first time since the opening concert.  The rubber-matted floor had been pried up in the center to reveal a sand pit (well, not really a sand pit because the telão is a tent built on the beach, but you get my drift); off to the right was a stage laden with percussion instruments, and in the pit there were about 20 performers wandering around in cellophane tunics and very little else.  Seating was limited:  a few dozen chairs at the fringes of the tent, presumably for the old and lazy, and everyone else stood or sat around the sand pit.

My principal objective, coming into Macumba antropófaga, was to maintain a strict stance of non-participation.  I do not like interactive theatre. No, Blue Man Group, I will not come up and throw paint around with you.  No, folk dancers, I am not coming into the aisle to dance.  I paid good money for the right to sit and observe your spectacle without being pulled into it.

The troupe started doing vocal warmups with a synthesizer, which was somehow terrifying.  Then Zé Celso, the patriarch of Teatro Oficina, trotted over in a cellophane tunic decorated with pot leaves (mercifully, wearing a white linen outfit underneath) and started ushering the people around the pit to stand up and sing along.  This is where the audience began to turn on itself.

With the sand-pit faction on its feet, the seated members of the audience could no longer gawk at the cellophane-tunic’d masses.  “SENTA!” bellowed the old and the lazy from their seats.  About half of the sand-pit faction obeyed, but was waved to its feet again by Zé Celso.  “SENTA!”  This went on for about 5 minutes, the sand-pit audience members popping up and down like jack-in-the-boxes, until the show started and everyone decided it was best to obey the idosos and sit down.  This was an ideological conflict, though, fundamentally, between those who had come to the show expecting comfort and entertainment and those on the front lines, in imminent danger of being stripped naked or forced to eat some sort of strange meat by the actors.  The bourgeoisie in the chairs and the proletariat around the pit.

If I went on to recount everything that happened over the next several hours, this would be a rambling, incoherent, and ultimately dull blog post.  Much like the experience of the show!  All right, that’s harsh, but I’ll run things down briefly as best my memory serves and see if you all agree.

I am always amenable to a 1928 shout-out.

First of all, I should say that my efforts at non-participation were roundly foiled, although I most certainly did not participate as much as I was given the opportunity to.  The idea of the show was more or less a history of Brazil seen through the lens of the Cannibal Manifesto;  Zé Celso and the troupe “summoned” Oswald de Andrade, a lank-haired actor in a tuxedo, who proceeded to strut around for a while before the whole troupe suddenly ran out of the telão.  The side of the tent was open onto the beach, that is; and those willing and able (read: the proletariat) followed them outside, squatting on the beach for the first part of the ceremony.  The first scene was a dinner party.  The actors playing Oswald de Andrade and Tarsila do Amaral toasted to the year 1928 (played by the woman above) with absinthe, and then proceeded to eat tiny human beings and strip naked.  This was less exciting than it sounds, actually.  The critique of Teatro Oficina that I heard over and over again is that their taboo-breaking was revolutionary in the 60s, but that they haven’t progressed any since then.  (They have done some gorgeous theatre pieces, I’m also told, including an adaptation of Os Sertões, but this was not among their masterpieces.)  I did get the sense that the actors felt that they were being very radical and somehow shattering all of our middle-class hang-ups.

Actually, it just got very boring very fast.  First Oswald frolicked around on the beach eating more tiny human beings while Tarsila painted him and “índios” yelled things from the trees where they were perched.  Then Oswald and company came back into the telão, followed confusedly by what was left of the audience, and there followed an interminable debate between Oswald and the cannibal Indian tribe over who was going to eat whom.  Macunaíma was going to eat Oswald, and struck him over the head, but Oswald survived, put on a leather jacket, and started feeding pieces of meat to the audience members.  (This is an extraordinarily condensed version of events.)  One piece landed with a splat in the lap of the guy sitting next to me.

10 points if you can guess how long he kept his clothes on.

What followed was Teatro Oficina’s version of a history lesson.  Montaigne, the Portuguese, American industrialists, Napoleon, Buñuel, and Christ, among others, all made cameos and all got naked.  In most cases, it was the same two or three actors who kept coming back in different costumes only to be stripped down, and as the show entered its second hour, this became increasingly less interesting.  It was, and I do not mean this as a compliment, like experiencing a live version of Como era gostoso o meu francês.

In what has to be the biggest cautionary tale in interactive theatre that I have ever seen, half a dozen audience members were also brought up onto the stage during the “Discovery of Brazil” portion and subsequently stripped down.  A few of them retrieved their clothes and went back to sitting around the pit, but the rest ended up dancing naked for at least the next two hours; all in all, at least a dozen audience members ended up joining the troupe.  (One poor soul refused and got slapped on the back of the head by Zé Celso.)  This readiness, if nothing else, demonstrates that Teatro Oficina is not as radical as it thinks it is.

At a certain point the show stopped being a history lesson and started being a rambling commentary on morality.  Simulated abortion, lots of Zé Celso dressing up as the Pope, ostentatious same-sex making-out – I am ideologically aligned with Teatro Oficina on nearly all of the issues they took up, but the way in which they chose to frame their advocacy left me almost wishing that I weren’t.  It was embarrassing in its lack of subtlety; there was no profundity to the criticism, just a lot of fake blood.  They did make fun of Nicolelis’ World Cup vision, though, which I appreciated.

By the third hour, almost nobody was left in the telão.  The bourgeoisie had long since departed; even the group I came with had left, but I was determined to stick it out.  (Privately, I told myself that if it went beyond 6 hours I was going to bed.)  After nearly 4 hours, though, the group took their naked bows and brought out a banquet.  Namely, the Bishop Sardinha (the first bishop of Brazil, infamously devoured by the natives).  The Bishop consisted of a dozen bottles of wine, a monstrous jug of cachaça, baskets of fruit, mandioca pastries, and a big fish.  I took a caqui and a copinho of cachaça as my reward for sitting through 4 hours of yelling and nudity and sat on the edge of the sand pit, sharing fruit with the guy next to me.

As the audience ate the Bishop, Oswald summoned the FLIP curator, opened up a Plexiglass box labeled MANIFESTO ANTROPOFAGO, and made the curator eat a piece of what was inside.  Three of the FLIP authors were there to read sections of books – Pola from Pale Fire, valter hugo mãe from The Metamorphosis, and the Brazilian poet Eduardo Sterzi declaimed some poems by Jorge de Sena.  And then FLIP was over, just like that.

For the record, the Manifesto Antropófago tastes like chicken.


One thought on “paraty II: the grand finale

  1. Your commentary is too good, and that sounds batshit. I think your comment about how boring theatre of that sort can be is so true, when I was at Greg’s graduation at Brown we went to an experimental theatre/dance performance and… yeah. Well, it was Brown.

    But anyways, love the shoutout to “Como era gostoso o meu francês!”

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