Alexandre Cozens, A Big Tree Over Water, s/d.


Commentary on the play directed by Gerald Thomas

“Here, nothing more can be seen (…) of the true actor who, precisely in his greatest activity, is totally appearance and pleasure in appearance.” (Friedrich Nietzsche, The origin of the tragedy).

The piece Traitor, by Gerald Thomas, interpreted by Marco Nanini, is a patchwork that doesn't come together, or perhaps comes together only for the director and playwright. And who knows, what is less likely, also for the actor. There is, strictly speaking, no plot, but a seemingly chaotic sequence of memories, comments, criticisms, excerpts from commercials, and the character's outbursts, whose matrix – as suggested – are parts of the biography of the author of the text himself. Life in New York and waiting to get a permanent visa, staying in a hotel in Punta Cana, the distressing condition of life in Brazil, etc. form a mosaic of persistent self-reference.

The set follows the script: a disorganized pile of ruins, objects, a giant doll resembling a tied-up politician, remains of concrete columns, props and an armchair – a kind of improvised throne, from which the actor speaks while sitting for much of the play. . In the middle of the piece, a set of rags and shards comes down from the ceiling, in which asbestos or metal tiles stand out, without any meaning or participation in the narrative amalgam.

The costumes are in questionable taste, typical of the cat-and-mouse style that is conventionally called “post-modern”. There are four supporting actors who move around the stage, sometimes jumping, sometimes dragging themselves, composing the scene more as part of the scenery or, at most, as assistants to the actor for changing clothes, water, rest, etc. The repetitions of the protagonist's lines and supporting characters' gestures are tiring and boring. However, the sound design and lighting stand out positively, which form a beautiful and, therefore, contrasting spectacle in its own right.

This is visibly an overproduction, considering, as a sample and symptom, the play's luxurious program, on coated paper, four colors, exquisite graphic design and production and professional photographs, an apparatus that very few theatrical productions currently have been able to have, until for environmental issues. The only justification for the play having the kind of appeal it has is the fact that it brings together famous actor and director, both at the clear end of their careers. Without this, the piece would be stillborn, because the tree, if it was once fruitful, has dried up.

Marco Nanini was demoted to a pathetic, caricatured and vulgar character taken as the spokesperson for the biography of Gerald Thomas – that is, narrator of the fable of a self-proclaimed enfant terrible, who no longer would like to be Brazilian, lives around the world in wanderings and farcical adventures. The composition intends to include programmatically disconnected elements, such as scenes from sausage commercials, the delight of listening to classical music, studying The origin of the tragedy, by Nietzsche, the (false) enthusiasm of participating in a police plot, of having a tragic story, of suffering with a sensitivity that is always on edge. It is not a text that allows the actor to show what he can and what he knows, because the actor was only used as an accident of luxury, publicly consumed as a spectacular commodity. In short, a perverse bedtime story.

I pondered for a moment what could be particularly Brazilian in terms of the conception and production of the piece. Not easy to distinguish. Supposing that from the rubble of the narrative we could glimpse the negative recollection (to use a euphemism, because slander, complaints and swearing prevail) of a retired actor. We can identify the plot with a gloss on the literary theme of what we could call “life balance”.

Theme that guides, voluntarily or involuntarily, any condition of life that is heading towards the end, therefore, of relatively widespread use in the most common reflective and discursive elaborations and, therefore, available to anyone. As a candidate for a work of art, it would be reasonable to expect something, at least, more creative, different, and, therefore, with a reserved dose of surprise and an invitation to the public's sensitivity. However, beyond the symbolic charge of the celebrity that precedes the actor and the director, what we see is a sequence of commonplaces, in the contemporary (post-modern?) sense of trivialities or, worse, frivolities.

From the experience of having lived in New York, the highlight was the difficulty of obtaining a visa, somewhat elementary if we put ourselves, as Brazilians, in the narrator's shoes. So nothing new. From the research experience on North American involvement with the dictatorship in Brazil, nothing more than the well-known (and true) thesis that it was a partnership. The experience of a life of acting results in the banal observation of someone who therefore considers himself to be a well of sensitivity.

From the experience of reading Nietzsche, a typical neophyte comment stands out: a name that is difficult to pronounce or spell. Nothing about what would be particularly New York about American culture – other than the crash of the Stock Exchange, in 1929, mentioned in the piece –, for example. Nothing that could be discovered about archival research, the study of history, nor about the relationship between theatrical representation and everyday social representation.

Not a single crumb about the consequences of studying the origin of tragedy in changing the way of understanding the work of the actor or the performances. This type of supposedly original treatment that results in clichés is perhaps one of the traits that emanates from a lukewarm condition of life and reflection, which in Brazil is close to the average taste of the supposedly literate middle class and its surroundings.

It would not be necessary to remember that there are countless notable plays, but also novels, poems and narratives, that take and develop this theme and this condition of balance of a life and that could serve as guidance and inspiration to the author.

Emulation is a resource for those who, sensible and aware of the chimera of immediate novelty and the enunciative limits of any present, call on traditional references to educate themselves and avoid the risk of “reinventing the wheel”, recklessly betting on unmediated access to a intimate and authentic originality. Even and perhaps with more reason if the project is to conceive intervention and avant-garde, because without knowing what it is opposed to, the effect almost always results in platitudes and, not infrequently, in nonsense. There would be no Shakespeare or Beckett if they had considered themselves, first and foremost, “geniuses” independent of any tradition.

If, on the contrary, the play was actually intended to be an aesthetic manifesto, a renewal of the art of the stage, and this implied a formula so bold and disruptive that it would not be possible to understand it without sufficient erudition, then, again, as a presentation for almost unrestricted audience, in addition, of course, to the censorship of the presence of children, the result would be a code show for beginners, which would require more rigorous selection criteria in the composition of the audience, in the definition of advertising appeals and, therefore, something of the the very nature of theater.

If he intended to defy average taste, not grant the suspicious preference of anonymous and pedestrians, not give up an unsuspected esoteric beauty, he ended up affronting almost everyone, pleasing, at most, himself (the author, in this case) and neutralizing any chance of esthesia, with the exception of those linked to discomfort, boredom and refusal.

Another hypothesis regarding the question above: Bovarism being “the power granted to man to conceive of himself as different from what he is”, as Jules de Gaultier writes, cited by Maria Rita Kehl in Brazilian Bovarism, we could, for the case in question, remember that this feature, a recurring desire, appears in the extensive national catalog of our peculiar imaginary formations, at the same time that we are aware of the social tragedy that characterizes us as a society, of being other, different , but not so much, of denying without refusing the source of slavery's support of elevated lifestyles, of restricted circles of social coexistence, of the illustrated sociability of refined cultural rooms, of being able to give free rein to the projects and desires of being an inhabitant of the world, of knowing no borders.

There would not be a subtle blink of an eye between peers, for very few people, therefore, people from another extraction who recognize themselves, and in no way, practically, similar to the ordinary Brazilian, from a sophisticated and cosmopolitan nation, in the random and hermetic movement with which it has become clothed. the play's parade of shards?

Be that as it may, everything results in a mismatched and empty experimentalism, appeals of dubious taste to histrionics, and to a “deconstructed” language, because allegedly cool, anti-classical, poorly behaved and very uncommunicative, perhaps because transmitting a message is really something to be done. be refused beforehand as an avant-garde aesthetic value in the theatrical conception of the owner of the piece. Whatever it is, the effect could be null, but the worst thing is that it is boring, boring and misleading as a theatrical representation.

And it's just a 50-minute piece, which felt more like 50 hours. It was one of the worst plays I've ever seen. The meaning of the title could therefore mean the feeling of someone who believed in the promise, went to the theater expecting some instruction, commotion or entertainment and, in the end, found that there was nothing there.[1]

*Denilson Cordeiro Professor of Philosophy at the Department of Exact and Earth Sciences at Unifesp, Diadema campus.


[1] I would like to thank Marian Dias and Joaci Pereira Furtado for their ongoing dialogue and collaboration.

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