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Volume 56 / Humanities



SEVERINO JOÃO ALBUQUERQUE, Associate Professor of Portuguese, University of Wisconsin, Madison

THEATER IN BRAZIL IN THE FIRST HALF of the 1990s has been dominated by encenadores, "multi-faceted individuals who assume the roles of director, set designer, and scriptwriter and who took to the stages in the early eighties while national dramatists active during the 1960s-70s tried to respond to the new working conditions" (item bi 95019392). Encenadores favor adaptations of Greek tragedies, Shakespeare, and more recent European classics; the only Brazilian dramatists to have merited their attention are proven masters like Nelson Rodrigues and Jorge Andrade. The work of Antunes Filho and Gerald Thomas, the most distinguished of these practitioners, displays a wide range of interests and influences, from myth and carnaval (Antunes) to minimalist opera (Thomas), but little concern or support for the work of younger Brazilian playwrights. Staging of new plays has been thwarted by an additional trend, prevalent since the early 1980s - the theatrical adaptation of works from other genres and art forms. As a consequence, theater has been thriving in Brazil while national drama has languished, as the scarcity of good original plays seems to indicate.

Of note among published texts is the continuation of Palco Iluminado, Editora Scipione's new drama series, with new titles by Edson d'Santana (item bi 95002021) and Edla van Steen (item bi 95002012). The only major playwright to publish an important new play has been Plínio Marcos, whose A mancha roxa - published privately by the author - portrays a group of HIV-positive women in a state penitentiary (item bi 95019398).

Other titles reflect efforts in community theater (item bi 95002006), historical drama (item bi 95002016), and denunciation of torture (item bi 95001996), all of which point to a continuation - new sensibilities notwithstanding - of Brazil's rich tradition of politically committed theater. Yet another earlier trend, "teatro besteirol," is represented here by what the playwright, Ricardo Pérsio, calls "teatro cretino," light theater strongly influenced by improv, stand-up comedy, and television sitcoms (item bi 95002000).

Criticism has begun to reflect the shift to an encenador-oriented theater, with Antunes Filho as the focus of important works such as those by David George (item bi 95019360) and Sebastião Milaré (item bi 95019364). Older critics have stayed away from the topic, opting instead for compilations of articles and essays, most of which have been previously published in newspapers and other venues. In this vein, Décio de Almeida Prado examines colonial and 19th-century theater (item bi 95002018) and selected actors, directors, and trends of early- and mid-20th-century Brazilian theater (item bi 95002017). Two other critical compilations pay homage to seminal critics Jacó Guinsburg (item bi 95019362) and, posthumously, Anatol Rosenfeld (item bi 95002019).

A welcome resurgence of critical studies of 19th-century theater includes, in addition to sections in Prado's collected writings (item bi 95002018), books on movements (Faria on Realist drama, item bi 95002008, and Fraga on Symbolist theater, item bi 95001998), genres (two works on teatro de revista, by Ruiz, item bi 95001999, and Neyde Veneziano, item bi 95019368), and playwrights (Huppes on Gonçalves de Magalhães, item bi 95002015). Equally welcome is the continued appearance in printed form of otherwise difficult to locate records of mainstream companies (item bi 95002013), State-supported ensembles (item bi 95001997), experimental groups (item bi 95001994), and general documentation on the theater scene away from the traditional centers (items bi 95002002, bi 95002004, and bi 95002007).

Authored by members of a younger generation of critics working in Brazil and the US, two books deserve special mention for scholarship and insight: Elza de Vincenzo's Um teatro da mulher surveys women's theater in contemporary Brazil (item bi 95002003) and Leslie Damasceno's Espaço cultural e convenções teatrais na obra de Oduvaldo Vianna Filho uses cultural and political theory to approach the work of a key playwright (item bi 95019359).

Brazilian theater in the mid-1990s continues to be receptive to all forms, themes, and styles. As David George writes, "the vitality of the theatre as an institution, its diversity and unflagging energy put to rest any notion that it is an art form on the wane. And if 'serious' Brazilian playwrights are quiet these days, they are waiting in the wings and they will soon be heard from again" (item bi 95019395).

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