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Reviewed by:
  • Tentative Transgressions: Homosexuality, AIDS, and the Theater in Brazil
  • Pablo Assumpção
Tentative Transgressions: Homosexuality, AIDS, and the Theater in Brazil. By Severino J. Albuquerque. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004; pp. 255. $21.95 paper.

The author calls this book a descriptive and historical analysis of homosexuality in Brazilian theatre. But Albuquerque's ambitious project is more a proposal to rewrite twentieth-century Brazilian theatre history from a queer perspective, casting light onto a broad scope of ignored noncanonical works "as they intervene in the dominant construction of HIV and AIDS and promote [End Page 539] social change in Brazil" (174). General and specific theories of transgression and homosexuality, queer theories of representation, and the history of Brazilian drama are some of Albuquerque's tools used to critically analyze the presentation of homosexualities on the twentieth-century Brazilian stage before and after the advent of the AIDS crisis. His point of departure is how intersecting anxieties at the heart of Brazilian modernism, combined with a traditional reluctance to portray transgression, led the theatre in Brazil to seriously misrepresent male and female homosexuality.

The book is divided into four chapters, with the first laying out general concepts of transgression in its relation to homosexuality and Brazilian culture at large. Drawing on the work of Richard Parker, James Green, Jurandir Freire Costa, and João Silvério Trevisan, Albuquerque maps out Brazil's particular and complex culture of (homo)sexuality, while the readings of Foucault, Bakhtin, Stallybrass and White, and Rommel Mendès-Leite frame his observation of Brazilian carnivalesque culture as a privileged locus of inversion.

In the first chapter, Albuquerque states, "Ambisexuality and the notion of inversion prevalent in Brazilian culture helped the elaboration of a particular construct where homosexuality is the simultaneous focus of both abjection and fascination" (15). The author examines the staging of homosexuality in Brazil (from transvestism to modern theatre) and points out how the works under consideration may express the intersection of anxieties (sexual, social, political) about this particular transgressive practice. This chapter thus lays out the theoretical environment in which he develops his own understanding of the fate of sexual minorities in Brazilian theatrical historiography and canon formation.

With this paradigm of attraction and rejection of the experience of "the different and the disenfranchised" applied to Brazilian culture, Albuquerque moves on to the second chapter of the book, which examines the ways homosexuality was occluded in the key period of Brazilian Modernism. Concentrating his analysis on the plays of three of Brazil's most distinguished dramatists (Oswald de Andrade, Nelson Rodrigues, and Plínio Marcos), all of whom were stated heterosexuals, Albuquerque questions the extent to which these emblematic playwrights were actually qualified to serve as critics of their own repressive historic moment. Furthermore, he writes about how the modernist movement gained control of the intellectual territory in 1920s Brazil while overshadowing perhaps more transgressive prominent figures such as queer playwright João do Rio, and the luso-Brazilian version of revue, teatro de revista. Bypassing such preexisting queer sites underscored how modernism meant to provide the Brazilian theatre with a new image, one "considered less frivolous and more attuned to their notions of progress and contemporary society" (53).

The politics of such an evasion is manifested by detailed analysis of Rodrigues's, Andrade's, and Marcos's depictions of homosexuals in their plays. Unable to avoid stereotypes, these authors have presented characters with no multidimensionality, inevitably producing stock figures—"targets of humor, agents of evil, emblems of loneliness" (62). In the highly political plays these authors are admired for (Oswald de Andrade's O Rei da Vela, for instance), Albuquerque identifies a disturbing and problematic use of queer elements, naming the all-too-often use of homosexuality by both the Left and the Right as a tool to denigrate the enemy.

In chapter 3, Albuquerque maps out significant changes in Brazilian theatre during the second half of the twentieth century. Applying the theories of transgression discussed in chapter 1, the author situates the performative and transgressive aspects of the theatre as practiced by dramatists such as Zé Vicente, Naum Alves de Souza, Mauro Rasi, and even Chico Buarque. Although not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-332X
Print ISSN
0192-2882
Pages
pp. 539-541
Launched on MUSE
2005-10-13
Open Access
No
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