Because remounting successful New York productions is a trend in Brazil, it was predictable that the winner of the 1998 Lucille Lortel Award for outstanding special achievement in theatre would be “imported” sooner or later. Since its premiere in 2010, the Brazilian production has toured around the country, including provincial towns, where the theme of same-sex relationships—inescapable in the contemporary reception of an all-male production—often constitutes a taboo. While Calarco’s adaptation is inventive in itself, the merit of this staging lay in its choices, particularly the combination of historical and modern in-puts, the avoidance of most textual stage directions, and the citation of remarkable theatrical and filmic productions of the Shakespearean playtext.
The original musical piece of the opening scene established the edgy atmosphere of the staging as, one by one, the four actors entered, made the sign of the cross, and uniformly moved towards a wooden school desk. This entrance implied the submission that used to be typical of adolescent behavior in Catholic schools. The chiaroscuro created by the spotlights focused on the performers suggested that the latter were the ones illuminating the surrounding darkness. This effect introduced a stark contrast between the unsettling characters and the oppressive environment. Afterwards the four students knelt down and prayed, their contracted bodies stressing the sense of guilt implied in the negotiation with an overbearing divinity. In an act of transgression, testosterone-pumped João Gabriel Vasconcellos left the group, sat at one of the four desks, and started writing and reciting a poem—sonnet 147—about the experience of spiritual turmoil inherent in the state of being deeply in love. Although enthusiastic, he felt intimidated by the zeal of his classmates and rejoined them. Then the four students repeatedly stood up [End Page 614] and sat down while executing oral drills that alternated the conjugation of the Latin verb amare (to love) and a few rules of Victorian etiquette. This scene suggested a school of the fifties: the old-fashioned furniture and the costumes, even with the twist of fantasy of the red uniforms, were clearly inspired by Dead Poets Society, evoking the memorable depiction of a young man’s fatally transgressive trajectory inspired by poetry.
As soon as the school bell ceased to prompt the students’ mechanical deference, they relaxed, took off their ties, unbuttoned their collars, and exchanged suspicious glances—gestures that intimated complicity in disobedience. Vasconcellos grabbed something, a book, carefully wrapped up in a piece of golden satin from the drawer of a desk, unwrapped it and raised it up, making it visible to the others while the stage became more brightly lit. Meanwhile, the other students yelled and played rhythms on the furniture, in a kind of pagan ritual of welcoming the night’s secrecy. The book was certainly Romeo and Juliet, from which Vasconcellos read the opening sonnet to both his classmates. Then the four students, displaying intimacy with the forbidden text, engaged in a performance of masculine exhibition, which culminated in the materialization of Sampson’s phallus, actually a caricature performed by Vasconcellos’ leg sticking out Rodrigo Pandolfo’s crotch while the latter said: “’tis known I am a pretty piece of flesh.” Soon, however, this hyperbolic expression of sensuality—an assertion of superiority—escalated to aggressive competitiveness: the brawl between the opposing families began when Pablo Sanábio left the stage and immediately returned as Tybalt.
The brawl scene blurred the borderline between the students’ staging of the Shakespearean tragedy and Fonseca’s staging...