I of you

Annika Elisabeth von Hausswolff, Oh Mother What Have You Done #032, 2021


Commentary on the play, starring Denise Fraga, showing in São Paulo

“A ragpicker is seen coming; shakes his head \ And, like a poet, he hits the walls, he stumbles; \ Without caring for the spies, he now has affection, \ Expands his heart in glorious projects.”
(Charles Baudelaire, The wine of the ragpickers. In the translation by Júlio Guimarães).

Charles Baudelaire, in these beautiful verses, pays homage to a forgotten character from urban life, however inseparable from it, by approaching her, explicitly comparing her to the poet. Just like the ragpicker, who spends his days collecting discarded rags and old papers, oblivious to the fierce surveillance of modern life, the poet collects words and stories from the streets, with his heart open to “glorious projects”.

The modern artistic tradition, after Charles Baudelaire, came closer and closer to this metaphor, giving poetry a place alongside the rest of life, not above it, without, however, confusing it with banality. Charles Baudelaire equated himself with the renegade – even if we can still accuse him of romanticizing exclusion – not with a divine messenger; he did not ask for help from the muses, on the contrary, he turned to the wine drunk in the dark corners of the city.

In a way, later art appropriated the image almost as a rule: art can no longer be separated from normal life, it cannot be seen as an extraordinary moment without any relationship with the life lived, as if to forget – in the fashion of superficial productions –, nor should it only deal with heroic deeds, the encounters and interiorities of great leaders and unattainable figures.

Art nestled in common life, appropriating the banal to debanalize it, removing automatism and revealing the endless strength and beauty of the trivial. Not that all art has to do this, but now it can.

The piece I of you, starring Denise Fraga, returned to the stages of São Paulo (now at TUCA), to our delight. The piece is part of the Baudelairean tradition of collecting rags. Its entire script is built on real stories collected from normal people, mixed with excerpts from great poets and writers, as well as popular songs. As a result, we have a beautiful patchwork that brings the public itself into the open – art has shown itself there as a pure gesture of poeticization that invites the re-enchantment of the banal, as well as attention to the pain that is overlooked because it is trivialized and ignored.

Perhaps the greatest merit of the play is to put back into life the affection that, at the same time, life deserves, but takes away from itself. When we are faced with varied stories, which sometimes come close to our personal stories and sometimes move away from them, we are deeply affected – these stories affect us, reach us. Unknown people, from whom we stay away, even when we bump into each other on the streets, come closer to the point where we find ourselves sharing mixed emotions.

As much as we have an atomized tradition of thought that suggests that our feelings occur in isolation from each other – now, fear; now, hurry; now, joy… –, life, for our sake, appears to be much more complex, as affections always occur together. We always feel emotional mixtures, whose fragmentation carried out later by the almost scientific thought of separating compounds only impoverishes life.

I of you revives by bringing us back to life lived, not thought, giving way to the affective complexity that constitutes us. In the play, we manage to laugh, cry, get excited, saddened, angry, pitied – at the same time. The strength of the play, however, is even greater: these affections, now complex, are shared.

Jean-Paul Sartre once said that literature is a joint commitment of complicity between writer and reader. Theater too, but its greatest beauty lies in the fact that there is not one reader, but hundreds of simultaneous spectator-participants. We feel everything and together, at the same time. It is the purest compassion – shared passion, which reveals the humanity and joint commitment of all those who make the play happen.

The artists' mastery lies in the ability to generate an atmosphere conducive to shared affection, which spreads throughout the environment, remaining alive even after the end of the piece. Somehow, I feel connected to everyone who lived that moment with me, with all the people whose stories touched me, with all the artists who made it happen. And we cannot deny it: Denise Fraga is an unparalleled master.

The artist's own movement of making a collage with real stories already weakens the separation between art and life. Denise Fraga's performance, however, exploits this potential to the fullest. Before the play begins – if it is possible to talk about the beginning – she is in the audience, talking, walking back and forth, welcoming guests into her house. She starts speaking into the microphone for everyone to hear, what appears to be a continuation of the conversation she was having with the spectators – which it is.

She starts telling a story about when she was younger, approaches the stage and, before we realize, the play had already started a while ago. The play of lights, masterful throughout the show, follows the movement of the text and the performance: the play does not begin with curtains closed and lights off, with the actors behind being revealed, but with the lights on, the actress in our midst , without curtains and any separations.

It's as if Denise Fraga managed to take us all by the hand and lead us into the story she wanted to tell us, a story of many people to whom she gave a voice. Without realizing it, we are already inside, accomplices, participating in that moment. All typical everyday dispersion, both of attention and affection, is replaced by a total presence – the piece makes us present, grounding us in the moment that, so beautiful, looms large in its finitude.

We have lost the ability to discern what line is or is not in the script, what moment the show started, what moment it ended (for me, it's not over yet!). Even so, we know we are in a play. Without being able to say when or how, it starts and we are already engulfed in the event.

Even with everything I described above, theater remains theater – it is not just another everyday conversation. It is a different moment, but one whose boundaries with the ordinary are blurred. That the piece remains distinct from the rest of your life is a necessity. That she is removed is a shame. Its power is found in making us want that moment to never end and that all the affection provided by it spreads throughout our lives. Theater like this – distinct, not removed from life – makes us demand something more from it than monotony – it helps us want to live, just as we live there.

The play's attention to the lived world is also evident in the themes covered. Even though at no point is it pamphleteering, explicit or charged, – this is its virtue – the piece is deeply political. At every moment, a tension from our current life is brought up in the voice of a different person/character. That piece was made for that audience – for us. Our shared daily pains and anguish become present.

We are invited to face ourselves in the story of the other, realizing that our sufferings are not solitary, but common to many, in a gesture of intense fraternity, as Simone de Beauvoir says in the voice of the actress. Pains that we may not have experienced become close. The political movement of the play also consists of promoting the recognition of otherness: I do not suffer from this suffering, it is true, but I recognize it and place myself as an ally in its fight.

Among the various boundaries tensioned in the play, it is also worth mentioning the genre of the play. They chose a monologue, whose meaning, at least since Shakespeare, refers to an externalization of an individuality. Monologue is the single speech, the speech of one self to others.

I of you It is a monologue, but not from a self. Denise Fraga is an actress, but her voice there belongs to many. Watching the play makes you realize that, in her seemingly most individual and solitary speech, she inhabits an intense communion with all of humanity. By sinking into the monologue, the actress does not reveal the secrets of just one character, but the intimacy of multiple people, in such a way that, at the end of the play, we feel like we have spent a good amount of time talking to many friends, even if, in all cases, , we can distinguish Denise Fraga’s affectionate and delicate gesture.

Finally, it is important to praise the effort to make the play accessible, with the presence of sign language interpreters and audio description. If you can, be dazzled by the penetrating delicacy of I of you and renew your belief in the power of theater.

*Alex Rosa Costa is a doctoral candidate in philosophy at UFABC.


Conception and Creation: Denise Fraga, José Maria and Luiz Villaça
With Denise Fraga
Directed by: Luiz Villaça
Production: José Maria

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