Desert

Image: Robert Rauschenberg
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By GABRIEL MARTINS DA SILVA & MATHEUS RIBEIRO ALVES DE LIMA*

Commentary on the play directed by Luiz Felipe Reis

On view since May 2, 2024, at Teatro Futuros (Instituto Oi Futuro), Desert, directed by Luiz Felipe Reis, puts the life and work of Roberto Bolaño (Renato Livera) on stage. As we are informed by the digital booklet, the result of extensive research, an accumulation of years of careful reading of the fiction writer's work, the play highlights the last years of his life, in a miscellaneous monologue that combines different aspects of the intricate relationship between the work and the condition of a wandering, marginal and sick writer.

In one of the first scenes of the play, we are addressed by short lines, directed to the recorder on the writer's work table. This seems to be a way for the author to speak to himself, doubling himself, whose voice, reproduced in sequence, accommodates actor and audience in the fictional universe that will be pursued during the show. After the sequence of creative pills, probably a routine activity for those who work with writing, Bolaño's monologue is quickly displaced, when, in the voice of another character, a kind of messenger, we are informed that our guest (Bolaño himself) is late, that there were complications, that he won't arrive.

We quickly leave the writer's private environment, his work desk, where he rehearses excerpts from his work, and we are transported to a possible lecture by Bolaño. In the double game between the author and another (the messenger), we are faced with the complexity that the play seeks to stage, that is, to make the author's own identity a question. The character of the monologue, therefore, is torn apart in the scene – a feature that will be repeated throughout the play – to become something other than Bolaño, as if he were watching the situation outside of himself, without his glasses, a costume element that guarantees the verisimilitude of the character.

Still in this same scene, behind, and confronting the text itself from which such staging originates, words are projected on a screen that deny or reveal what is being hidden by the messenger's nervousness and hesitation. Thus, in front of the audience, the actor incorporates metanarrative elements to precisely articulate, together with the text of the play, a certain equivocation in the actor's and the author's own position - which we would like to think from the perspective of the play. portmanteau word author.

Between Bolaño and the messenger, or even between what the actor says, without mediation, to the audience and what can be read, under the sign of the word, on the screen in the background, we are faced with an impasse. The confrontation creates a certain dissonance with the public, while also a certain rapprochement, when we recognize the difficulty of our messenger, as well as the complicity of the text that opens the curtain of what is not said. Perhaps of what cannot be said, of what is obscene on stage and, like tragic violence, can only emerge through the words inscribed behind the actor.

Thus, everything we see in the sequence is divided between what appears to be the initial lecture, delivered by the messenger himself, and Bolaño's entry, staged in his own words, since the text of the monologue borrows several works from the author. author to construct his lines. Thus, following the first source text (“Literature + illness = illness”), what we see is a lecture given by Roberto Bolaño, collected in The insufferable gaucho, a book recently translated and released in February this year (Companhia das Letras, 2024).

This atmosphere of doubt, of instability between the real and the fictional, between the work and life, between the staged and the practiced, is constitutive of Bolaño's relationship with literature, his writing, a literary proposal that starts from his own lived experience. in its constant duplicity with the word, the written, the narrated, the adventure. As in Bolaño's works, the play sophisticates, through different devices and languages, this game of mirrors between literature and life. Ultimately, a form of metafiction is constituted, when elements of Bolaño's work are articulated with biographical data, which, in turn, as we know, are largely intertwined. Thus, the author's fiction is used to fictionalize it, in an abyss, as if doubling the bet of the literary mechanism.

In conversation with the monologue's illuminator, the perception was clear that this was a theatrical work in an expanded universe. The cinematographic impression that the piece causes is made up of several elements that range from the viewer's vision, to, and in an unequivocal and competent way, the lighting, sound and, in particular, audiovisual resources - often working together in the intensification of the effects on the public. It is derived from this series of experiments that the slow motion, repeated as a topos throughout almost the entire play and triggered by a confluence between sound, lighting and the actor's body, the truly cinematic dimension becomes clearer.

Not only that, but the dramatic facet that such a scenic resource guarantees to the plot means that the actor's body, which composes the scenes in an ecstatic way, is, at the same time, in the foreground – when the movements are meticulously unfolded before the spectator. – and secondly – ​​when the lights and the various projections on the big screen become unavoidable to the public. It would be appropriate, at another time, perhaps in another place, to think about the different relationships that Bolaño's work has with cinematographic art, given that it seems to be transposed, in an inventive and analogous way, to theater.

At this point, the director, Luiz Felipe Reis, was astute in operating both the potential of each of these devices, and in transmuting them from the universe of his character, Roberto Bolaño. Devices such as the recorder and the camera, in addition to their particular scenic effectiveness, import elements of Bolañian poetics: it seems to be Arturo Belano's recorder in distant star (1996) and the possibility of a camera in The wild detectives (1998)

In this way, the piece manages not only to attract the immediate impact of the use of the technique on stage, but also to articulate it with fictional gestures; that is, these devices also appear mediated by Bolaño's work, they evoke the situations in which these objects are inserted (the electronic ear that listens to the unconfessable; the black box that captures voices before oblivion into which they are all voraciously pushed) and the way they connect reality to the fictional world (electronic devices are being, one by one, derived from the first support of technical reproducibility and phantasmal capture; ultimately, all devices are books; or rather, the book haunts each resource technology that threatens to destroy it and ends up prolonging it).

The unique way in which theater and biography are composed stands out to the viewer. Firstly, because it is a monologue that, for the sake of the resources that combine technique and performance body, make the stage, initially occupied only by an armchair and a work table, soon become filled with unusual elements. It is an expression of this, for example, as mentioned, the recorder and the camera, which compose the scenes with, first, the intrusion of an alien voice that resonates (and should reproduce) the actor's voice, but which precisely This resource of deferral places us before the key question that seems to guide the play, that is, the very conditions of possibility of narrating the life of a fiction author, whose work seems to us to be inseparable from his life, and vice versa .

A second element is the use of the film camera that, speculatively, would act as the interlocutor in a supposed interview, filling the absence of a body that could act opposite our Bolaño. However, surprisingly, communication between the stage (and the actor) and his image projected on the screen in the background (supposedly a reproduction of what the camera captures, pointed at the actor) makes the interaction between technique and scene take shape. more than interesting.

Thus, occupying a place close to that of the recorder, the reproduction of the filmed images, and their unique interaction with the body on stage, place us once again before the central challenge of the play, causing the character and the actor to become disconnected and disidentify. This noise, precisely at the link that should unite these two scenic dimensions, seems to be the driving force of the most evident critical aspect of the play, the difficulties (and precisely there, the power) of narrating the life of someone whose own material embodied in literature seems to inform “real” life, that is, the author’s life-spelling intrinsically linked to what he writes.

More than the key points of Bolaño's life, the biographical curiosities that abound in the production or even the intrusion of multimedia resources and other languages, not to mention the crucial way in which various excerpts from the author's works are grafted into the play's text. , what draws the most attention is the framework that the director chose to give dramaturgical form to the difficulties inherent to the problem of pamper yourself in literature, especially in the work of Roberto Bolaño.

*Gabriel Martins da Silva is a PhD candidate in Literature at PUC-Rio.

*Matheus Ribeiro Alves de Lima inMaster of the Postgraduate Program in Literature, Culture and Contemporary from PUC-Rio.


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