Meet The Cast and Director of Spooky Action Theater’s ‘The Wedding Dress’: Part 1: Meet Playwright Nelson Rodrigues by Luís Artur Nunes

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Spooky Action Theater is presenting The Wedding Dress by Nelson Rodrigues. The show is directed by Rebecca Holderness and stars Frank Britton, Michael Kevin Darnall, Dane Edidi, Stefanie Garcia, Rafael Medina, Aniko Olah, Tuyet Thi Pham, Randolph Curtis Rand, Mundy Spears, and Sue Struve.

In Part One in a series of interviews with the director and cast, Brazilian Theater Director Luís Artur Nunes introduces us to Playwright Nelson Rodrigues.

Playwright Nelson Rodriguez. Photo courtesy of Spooky Action Theater.
Playwright Nelson Rodrigues. Photo by Amiccuci Gallo.

NELSON RODRIGUES (1912-1980) is a  Brazilian playwright, born in Recife, Pernambuco, and raised in Rio de Janeiro, where he initiated a lifelong career as a journalist. When his first play, A Mulher sem Pecado (The Woman WithoutSin) premiered in 1942, Brazilian theatre was extremely conservative, limited mostly to  comedy of manners  and music-hall. A Mulher sem Pecado introduced new dramatic procedures and themes  which the author would develop along a total  of seventeen plays. Such dramatic output  established the  modernization of  Brazilian theatre.

The great novelty of the play was the  presentation  of the life of the mind as the delusions of its demented protagonist were concretely enacted on  stage.

In his second work, Vestido de Noiva (Wedding Gown, 1943),  Rodrigues would carry much further such innovation. Most of the action takes place in the traumatized mind of the heroine, Alaíde, who agonizes in a hospital. The script establishes three “planes”: memory, hallucination and reality. Through the meanderings of thoughts, reminiscence and dreams, framed in a dry stark context of external reality, we watch the gradual emerging of a story of emotional violence and bitter social commentary.

Luís Artur Nunes.
Luís Artur Nunes.

Vestido de Noivatook Brazilian theatre by storm. It was produced by an amateur company, Os Comediantes, and staged by Polish director Zbigniew Ziembinski, one of many European theatre professionals escaped from the war who brought Brazilian theatre up to date with the trends of contemporary avant-garde.

In spite of the overwhelming acclaim of Vestido de Noiva, Nelson Rodrigues  was to be subsequently  execrated  by audiences and critics and banned by the official censorship . His next plays: Álbum de Família (Family Album, 1945), Anjo Negro (Black Angel, 1946), Senhora dos Afogados (Lady of the Drowned,  1947) and Dorotéia  (1949)  dealt with explosive themes such as incest and family crime as an attempt to explore the mythic realms of the collective unconscious.  The  style would totally depart from strict realism, favoring  instead poetic atmosphere, anti-illusionistic devices, the absurd and the grotesque. The author himself called it  teatro desagradável (“disagreeable theatre”), for in his own words these were “pestilent fetid works, capable by themselves of producing typhus and malaria in the audience.”

unnamedAfter a brief return to the exploration  of the stream of consciousness in the monologue Valsa Número 6 (Waltz number 6, 1951), the next play, A Falecida (The Deceased, 1953) marks a total veering in Rodrigues’s dramatic style. From then on he would write mostly in the realistic mode, developing an acute observation of the social milieu – the Rio society, its human types and mores – and focusing especially on the poor suburban areas.  A Falecida was followed by Sete Gatinhos  (Seven Kittens, 1957), Perdoa-me por me traíres (Forgive me for your betraying me, 1958), Boca de Ouro (Golden Mouth, 1959), Beijo no Asfalto (Kiss on the Asphalt, 1960), Bonitinha mas Ordinária (Pretty but Sluttish, 1962), Toda Nudez será Castigada (All Nudity shall be Punished, 1965), Anti-Nelson Rodrigues (1973) and A Serpente (The Serpent, 1980). The only exception would be Viúva Porém Honesta (Widow,  yet Virtuous, 1957), a satirical farce with absurdist overtones.

As a consequence of his new phase, Nelson Rodrigues was reconciled with the general public and the intelligentsia. Yet he continued to innovate dramatic narrative, rejecting superficial naturalism and experimenting with daring theatrical  procedures which, surprisingly enough, did not contradict – and even enhanced –  his  illustration of social reality. His themes and subjects did not  become more palatable as he insisted on  taboo topics, sensational and provocative situations, aberration, degradation and extreme violence.

In his social drama, Nelson Rodrigues, although avoiding direct political commentary, was undoubtedly intent on denouncing the corruption, hypocrisy and exploitation in modern urban society. Through his slices of life, his real goal was to meditate on the misery of human condition. Being more local, nevertheless, thanks to his talent, he achieved larger communication and acceptance and became Brazil’s most important and influential playwright.

Mundy Spears (from left), Randolph Curtis Rand, and Dane Edidi. Photo by Franc Rosario.
Mundy Spears (from left), Randolph Curtis Rand, and Dane Edidi. Photo by Franc Rosario.

The Wedding Dress plays from February 13-March 9, 2014 at Spooky Action Theatre-1810 16th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online.