Or crocodile

Anthony Benjamin, Element, 1959,1999


Commentary on the play staged by Cia. Dalva star

Founded in 2005 by director Marcelo Gianini and actress Lígia Helena in the city of Santo André, Cia. Estrela D'Alva professionalized Teatro Singular, a student group formed in 1989. It is a collective that has adaptations of classic national and international literary works, for different staging contexts, such as the political and economic changes in Brazil from 2016.

The group presents interpretations of The Hour of the Star (2005), by Clarice Lispector, Alberto Caeiro – Himself (2007), from the heteronym of Fernando Pessoa, Hamlet SA (2009), by Shakespeare and Heiner Müller, the child, The Incredible Battle for the Treasure of Laduê (2010), among other works. They take their plays to the metropolitan perimeter, in addition to seven cities in the state, contemplated by the PROAC of Support for the Circulation of Theater Shows and Support for Integrated Arts.

Since 2018, they have had an Itinerant Theater School pedagogical project in public schools. Between September 23rd and October 14th, the Company presented in the metropolitan region of São Paulo the play Or crocodile, based on a short story of the same name by Dostoevsky. With a simple montage and with only 2 actors on stage, the play presented by Cia. Estrela D'Alva de Teatro, provides a current, authentic and mature retelling of the Russian author. From it we can extract some contributions to the critical thinking of capitalist sociability.

A myriad of interpretations and meanings can be developed from the symbolic plane with which the crocodile dialogue. In the play, the critique of capitalist ethics outlined by Dostoevsky is evident, an interpretation corroborated by the content of the Winter Notes that follow the edition of the fantastic tale in question. When a human life is swallowed up by the reptile's mouth, the characters' concern is anything other than that of saving poor Ivan Matviéitch. The protagonist takes an interest in the wife of the devoured one; the Germans – whose accent was wisely adapted to that of an American, revealing the transition from the center-periphery dynamics between Prussia and Russia to the USA and Brazil – who own the crocodile, soon think of the damage that would be caused by opening the animal and, on the other hand, , the huge potential profitability of exposing the animal with man in the stomach; the contractor, in turn, verbiage about the need to respect the economic principle, much more important for the country's progress than the life of a common entrepreneur. The wife, finally, thinks about the divorce and the pleasures possible now in a life free of that encumbrance, that is, of the husband that was once so good.

It is interesting to think about the dilemma, exposed right at the beginning of the story, between what Max Weber would later call the conflict between formal and material rationality.[I] The former, corresponding to the “economic principle”, concerns the adequacy between ends and means, that is, the correspondence between social action and the desired objective. On the other hand, material rationality concerns respect for principles, such as human dignity and democracy, which, however much they are bourgeois values, have been repeated ad nauseam in contemporary Brazil, since even liberal ideals are destroyed when the capitalist mode of production assumes fascist overdetermination. The crocodile, a being of nature that takes lives and over which man does not have total control, is analogous to the coronavirus, and in Brazilian lands it was also chosen not to open it in favor of the economic principle.

If the story, unfinished as it was, did not have a climax, the culmination of the play is undoubtedly the scene in which Matviéitch comes to terms. “Lying on his side”, an expression that in Russian has not only a literal meaning, but also refers to wandering around, to being useless, the devoured person starts to conjecture about the possibilities he will have to develop his philosophies from then on. One speech represents the engulfed view of their own condition and their possibilities from then on: “I won't get bored! […] For, fully imbued with grandiose ideas, only now, having leisure, can I dream of improving the lot of all mankind. From the crocodile, truth and light will now come out. Without a doubt, I will invent a new personal theory of new economic relations and I will be proud of it, which has not been possible for me until now, due to lack of leisure, due to my work and ordinary worldly amusements.”[ii] (DOSTOIÉVSKI, 2011, p. 39-40).

The pretentious, contradictory and imbecile ideas that the engulfed one begins to list perfectly illustrate the would-be contemporary gurus, self-styled philosophers or self-taught economists, who have gained ground through digital communication platforms. Without contact with science itself, not exposing their own ideas to their peers, not inserting themselves in the academic debate of the sciences they intend to do, these self-absorbed “free thinkers” (free because without any method that constrains them) end up resulting in the same ideas propagated by the reproductive apparatus of the dominant ideology in its most vulgar version, even if smoking a pipe and emulating archetypes such as the wise old man, or young genius, and so on. The CBF T-shirt featured in the Estrela D'Alva piece explains what this means.

The outcome of the story and the play is as illustrative as the scene in Ivan's daydreams. Breaking news of what happened, the press vehicles present, each one, their own version. It is interesting to note that, even before this debate takes hold, Dostoevsky illustrates the two ways in which ideology propagates: the lie, the inversion, the distortion – as Marx describes it – and, on the other hand, the facts themselves, but whose serving you select percepts in such a way that, even if one does not lie, a worldview is constituted, a form of subjectivity interesting to the designs of capital, in this case the economic use of Matviéitch's swallowing.

The first one, known as The Sheet, reports the purest inversion of reality: “A certain N., well-known gastronome of high society […], entered the Passagem building, went to the place where an enormous crocodile, recently brought to the capital, is exhibited, and he demanded that this be prepared for him for dinner. Agreeing the price with the owner of the establishment, he proceeded to devour it right there (that is, not the owner of the house, a very peaceful German and prone to punctuality and accuracy, but his crocodile), still alive, cutting the juicy pieces with a penknife and swallowing them with extraordinary rapidity.”[iii]

On the other hand, the Hair, more progressive and up-to-date, brings the criticism of his time: “yesterday, suddenly, at half past four in the afternoon, a certain disproportionately fat and drunk person appears at the foreign owner's shop; he pays the ticket and, at the same moment, without any previous warning, introduces himself through the throat of the crocodile, which, naturally, had no choice but to swallow it, even out of a mere feeling of self-defense, so as not to choke ”.[iv] How different would that be from our press?

All these and many other aspects of Brazilian society are approached by the affections that the artistic performance in question brought us. In the fight against the chaos of the unknown, but composing from this chaos in order to wage a nobler fight, art, philosophy and science serve to outline plans that allow us, in the last analysis, to construct percepts, manufacture concepts, engender functions that bring an understanding of the world, in order to massacre, to highlight the ridicule of ignorance, imbecility, opinion.[v]. These three branches of human brain activity are our weapons against ideology.

*Alexandre LC Tranjan is studying law at USP.

*Daniele Pin Corrêa holds a degree in architecture from USP.


[I] WEBER, Max. Economy and Society. Translation by Artur Morão, Teresa and Marian Toldy. Lisbon: Editions 70, 2022, p. 124-5.

[ii] DOSTOYEVSKY, Fyodor. The Crocodile and Winter Notes on Summer Impressions. Translation by Boris Schnaiderman. 4. ed. São Paulo: Editora 34, 2011, p. 39-40.

[iii] Ibid., P. 56-7.

[iv] Ibid., P. 59.

[v] DELEUZE, Gilles; GUATTARI, Felix. What is philosophy? Translated by Bento Prado Jr. and Alberto Alonso Muñoz. 3rd ed. São Paulo: Editora 34, 2010, p. 237-45.

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