Literature in quarantine: Prayer for a slipper foot

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Alcir Pécora*

Commentary on the play by Plínio Marcos

While preparing the edition of the Theater Works, by Plínio Marcos, which ended up being released in six volumes by Funarte, I had access to versions and documents that alerted me to the relevance of certain pieces from Plínio's repertoire, not always the best known. At the time, one of the things that most impressed me was Prayer for a slipper foot, from 1969, the year in which Plínio Marcos was the most banned playwright in Brazil.

the play begins ex abrupto with the entry of Bereco, a fugitive from the police, into the shack where Rato, a tubercular drunk, and Dilma, a decadent prostitute, sleep. This unforeseen outbreak leads Rato to wake up with a fright and automatically proclaim himself innocent without any accusations against him, which demonstrates the habit of being subjected to police interrogation. When he realizes that his shack had been invaded by a criminal and not by the police, his reaction is one of relief, which also gives a comic tone to the abrupt scene.

The relief, however, does not translate into any camaraderie between them, on the contrary: the mutual disqualification and the lowering of the other constitute the communication system between the characters locked together in the cramped room, which is reminiscent of the uncomfortable and violent situation of a cell. The exasperation is accentuated by a repetitive, and repeated, gesture on stage: Rato's nervous searching among the empty bottles in search of one that still contains a bit of liquor.

Their reiterated emptiness amplifies the mutual aggressions as well as confirms the symptoms of physical, social and moral degradation in which they find themselves: Rato is “chué in the head, in the breasts, spitting blood and everything”; Dilma “stinks”, gives “pity” and “disgust”, spreads “annoying”; Bereco has “slippered feet”, which “doesn't look like anything”, which, within the crooked logic at play, implies a lack of authority even as a marginal.

Against his “slipper foot” fate, Bereco guarantees that he has a lot of money, and Rato confirms his dangerousness because his name appears on a police force execution list, which by the way reveals his equally marginal character: he is a not the force of the State at the service of Justice, but of an extermination group at the service of private individuals, perhaps because of robberies committed by Bereco.

Even so, the greatness or heroism of the marginal is implausible: he has nowhere to run and desperately needs a hiding place to save him. Considering the situation of the three, Bereco is even the one who presents the greatest weakness and fear, in a situation of true siege. Dilma is not afraid because she has no hope, and Rato has only the momentary urgency of the drink, without any expectation of the future, both knowing that time is lost since birth in poverty.

By preventing Dilma from leaving the shack, for fear that she would point out his whereabouts to the police who were looking for him, Bereco also highlights the paranoid plot that plagues the three characters. The discussion they have to find out who would be more reliable to go out and get food and drink only amplifies the suspicions they harbor among themselves, especially when Rato's role as a police informant is made explicit. Bereco's threats, as well as his promise of ever-increasing rewards to those who help him, expand suspicion to the point of paradox, since the venality it excites cannot guarantee the trust that it itself testifies to not existing.

There is another paradox at play. Fleeing from the killer policemen, Bereco had gone to the shed of a police snitch, moved by a plan blurred by despair: he wants to buy Rato so that he can negotiate his surrender, as he assumes that his status as an informant would give him some credence with the police. to the police. The hypothesis proves to be delirious from the start, either because of Rato's state of misery, or because of the specular mention he makes of the terrifying story of “Cheirinho”, an informant shot by the police precisely for providing “cover” for a criminal.

In this circle of fear, suspicion and, at the same time, lack and the need to trust, Dilma appears to have some advantage over the others, simply because she seems indifferent to any end, hers or that of others. Skeptical about any way out, she both encourages Bereco's mistrust of Rato and encourages the fugitive to face the police and, instead of hiding, seek to fulfill his destiny as a bandit, within the realm of evil: "That's how has to be. It was bad. Die bad. Nothing to be soft”. Suspicions can only be stopped by liquidating hope and accepting the evil that he had to do in life.

This deliberate choice of life that one cannot choose does not imply having a chance of surviving, in this or another life, but rather a kind of moral gain from death. The pacification of the frenetic state of mistrust and madness is only possible through the free gesture of dying discounting “the dirty tricks they always did to us”. Miserable, your only true duty is to "make misery". That is, for Dilma, the only possible revenge is the decisive acceptance of a criminal condition. In terms of a worthless existence, the conquest of freedom would reside exclusively in doing evil, renouncing all love of life, one's own or others.

Dilma's nihilism seems to introduce some moral value into existence, while also declaring it impossible to live. It is not surprising, therefore, but the fruit of the most perfect logic — however much it is perceived by the public as surprising, since it is inevitable to pity the miserable and not take their capacity for harm seriously — that Dilma is the one to betray trust de Bereco and denounce him, after taking his money. This is a plausible hypothesis, although it is wisely kept unresolved in the play, without knowing the exact extent of the betrayal.

At the end, when the light goes out, as Pliny made a point of explaining in the play's heading, its focus must be on Bereco's face, showing him with a "tortured expression", which means that the predictable death has been consummated. , but also that there is no redemption in sight. The “good deal” of death when “life is shit”, postulated by Dilma, is just another empty face of madness. The affirmation of oneself (“I am more me”) by the instrument of force, in which the revolver is the great “trump card”, does not change anything, because destiny is fulfilled, after all, outside of individual will: “things happen without we can meow”.

Thus, in Plínio's play, the crime is carried out not as a transfiguration of the condition or moral value of the “slipper foot”, but only as a continuation of the insignificance of life. There is no concession to romantic patheticism, victim idealism, or heroic marginalism. In the final vocabulary of the play, even the nihilism postulated by Dilma is still an illusion of grandeur in death. What really remains is the retail of violence and pain, the origin of which those who suffer from it cannot even dream of.

*Alcir Pécora is a professor at the Institute of Language Studies (IEL) at Unicamp.


Plinio Marcos. Prayer for a slipper foot, In: theatrical works, vol. 1: Behind those walls. (Funarte, 2016) (

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