- Shaw in Brazil
The Portuguese proverb o que João diz de Pedro diz mais de João do que de Pedro (what John says about Peter tells us more about John than about Peter)1 may be fittingly applied to what Rosalie Rahal Haddad offers in her new book—if the reader will allow the metaphorical twist. Indeed, this survey of the critical reception of Shaw’s plays on the Brazilian stage for the better part of the past hundred years (1927 to 2013) tells us a lot about the configuration of the country at different stages. For example, the lack of drama schools in Brazil when the first Shaw productions were staged there accounts for the poor quality of the acting and the limited theatrical possibilities, given that there were not many good directors, choreographers, or lighting technicians, for that matter. Likewise, the amount of artistic talent that migrated from Europe during and after World War II facilitated [End Page 321] the cultural revival of the country, a process from which drama benefited accordingly. In economic terms, soaring inflation and financial instability deterred theatergoers, especially during the 1950s and 1960s. To quote but one other example, the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985 and the censorship implemented during this period had a noticeable effect on the choice of plays staged and on the type of media that would review those plays (and how), to the extent that during the 1970s “Shaw was performed only twice, albeit very briefly.” Indeed, one of the problems Haddad faces in trying to sketch a continuous evolution in the reception of Shaw in Brazil is that some of the above historical events and her own scope (productions in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro only) entail chronological gaps; moreover, these gaps are long enough to invalidate practically all connections between the periods immediately before and after them.
Haddad completes this book with some impressive—and relevant—accomplishments in her résumé, among them her 2008 production of The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles, noteworthy because it allows her to speak both as a scholar and as a firsthand Brazilian “adapter” of Shaw. On the other hand, her claim that she has written “the only full-length study of his [Shaw’s] novels conducted so far” cannot stand. Although her Bernard Shaw’s Novels: His Drama of Ideas in Embryo (Trier: WVT, 2007) is an important addition to a relatively neglected area of Shaw studies, Richard Dietrich’s landmark work, Bernard Shaw’s Novels: Portraits of the Artist as Man and Superman (1969; 1996), long predates Haddad’s book.2
The book is divided into five chapters, each of them devoted to a single play—those that have been performed most often and most successfully in Brazil: Pygmalion, My Fair Lady, Arms and the Man, Candida, and Mrs Warren’s Profession. The case of My Fair Lady, although not a Shaw play, is appropriately analyzed here if only as the manifestation of a work that was associated with Shaw in the popular imagination. In addition, it is worthy of mention that the 1962 musical was in many ways a turning point for professional theater in Brazil, as the assistant choreographer of the original Broadway version (Harry Woolever) did much to incorporate the latest training techniques to the Brazilian stage. This is not to mention that My Fair Lady is also a valid yardstick with which to gauge the reception of similar derivative works also covered in the book, such as O Soldado de Chocolate (The Chocolate Soldier), the Brazilian version of the Oscar Straus operetta based on Arms and the Man.
In view of the above—and perhaps because the data in this study might be of interest to a motley group of scholars, ranging from historians to critics to sociologists—the author finds it necessary to provide brief introductions [End Page 322] to each of the plays, but also to historical and cultural elements that would escape readers unfamiliar with the Brazilian...