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Volume 54 / Humanities



JUDITH ISHMAEL BISSETT, Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio

BRAZILIAN THEATER PASSED THROUGH SEVERAL phases as it developed a national identity. Early in its history, European themes, dramatic structures, language, and acting styles dominated the stage. During the 1920s and 1930s, plays with a social message reflecting Brazilian reality began to emerge as theater companies interested in promoting a Brazilian cultural identity were established. European models were assimilated and adapted and Brazilian works were written (but not always produced due to censorship). Foreign influence in the 1940s arrived in the form of directors like the Polish theater practitioner, Zbigniew Ziembinsky. His 1948 production of Nelson Rodrigues' Vestido de Noiva is generally considered to be the moment when Brazilian theater came of age.

Social and political questions affecting the nation were addressed more frequently and more eloquently by theater companies and playwrights during the next two decades. Protest became more difficult and dangerous after 1968, but it did not disappear. After the military regime ended in 1984, protest or committed drama often took a form which could be characterized as "theater of memory." Later, playwrights like Naum Alves de Souza focused on individual, personal concerns rather than the larger social or political problems facing the country. Women playwrights such as Leilah Assunç o and Consuelo de Castro, whose work expressed both social and feminist concerns, began to explore alternative approaches to their own dramatic production.

The late 1980s-1990s represent political freedom for everyone involved in the theater. However, financial constraints and the influence of television have made such creative efforts difficult, although not entirely impossible. The majority of the plays, criticism, history, and biography listed below reflect, in many ways, all of the stages Brazilian theater has undergone. Due to limited space, I will mention only a few of the works that best represent each historical moment during the 20th century.

Music hall theater is described in a very interesting manner in Viva o rebolado: vida e morte de teatro de revista brasileiro (item bi 93005572). Other works that treat theater history and discuss influences, companies, actors, directors, and styles are Uma oficina de atores: a Escola de Arte Dramática de Alfredo Mesquita (item bi 93005574) and David George's excellent The modern Brazilian stage (item bi 93005647). Oswald de Andrade's plays (items bi 93005586 and bi 93005589) epitomize not only modernism but also the "devouring" (assimilation and adaptation) of universal dramatic structures and themes. Two of the collections now being published exemplify the beginning of modern theater in Brazil (Nelson Rodrigues' Tragédias cariocas, item bi 93005616) and the following years of political and social protest (Coleção Dias Gomes, volumes 1-3, items bi 93005582, bi 93005620, and bi 93005621). The "theater of memory" is represented by De Amor Encarcerado in the collection entitled Teatro social (item bi 93005623). Alves de Souza's Suburbano Coração (item bi 93005600) portrays characters' personal desires and problems. Lua Nua (item bi 93005591) is an example of the new direction Assunção's work has taken: during the summer of 1993, she stated that she was searching for a new thematic element for future plays. At that time she also said that Brazilian theater had recently been on a continuing quest for innovative forms of expression relevant to the country's present situation.

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