KRIADAKI is a theatre company comprised of Luan Almeida (a recent graduate of UniRio’s theatre program) and three men who participated in Teatro na Prisão while they were in prison. All three of these men now reside in what’s called an “open prison,” which means that they get to leave the facility during the day to attend classes and work.
Edson Sodré, who has been a part of Teatro na Prisão for the last twenty-two years, is now a playwright, actor, and theatre student at UniRio, despite the fact that he has to return to prison every night to sleep. He wrote and played a role in the play that we saw performed this evening, which was called Dois neuronios numa mente suja, which very loosely translates either to Two neurotics in a dirty state of mind or Two neurons in a dirty state of mind. (I know that one of those translations is way off, but I’m honestly not sure which one!) The play was both really funny and really poignant at the same time, and Sodré explained in the post-show discussion that the thirty minutes of performance that we saw this evening is just a segment of this play, which is still in development.
Because of horrendous traffic in Rio tonight, I and the students who were sharing an Uber with me arrived about ten minutes late, so I don’t know how the performance started. Also, some of the actors have accents that I find difficult to follow, so my comprehension of the performance is not quite as sharp as I would have liked. Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed what I saw. All four of the actors are highly expressive, energetic, and funny, so even when my imperfect Portuguese listening skills failed me, I was able to pick up a good deal in context. Here’s a fuzzy summary of what I could follow of the play:
The play involves a writer, played by Sodré, who is trying to get the other three characters to help him either improvise what he’s writing or tell their own stories so that he can write them down. (I wasn’t too sure on that point.) One of these characters thinks they ought to do a play, and the others tell him that he’s ridiculous, that nobody goes to the theatre. This character persists and says they really should be doing theatre because it’s a great way to give life to the stories he wants to share. He sings and tells stories about his life. The others make fun of him, but they also end up telling stories. Some of these stories begin in ways that are very funny but end up being really serious narratives about what it’s like to live in a favela, how many poor people the police are shooting, how hard it is to be black in Brazil, how many Brazilians are ending up in prison, how certain communities have been literally decimated by gun violence. Sodré’s character will sometimes interject or pause the action so that he can catch up to writing about what they are saying. In the end, his character addresses the audience and explains that art helps us cope with the most difficult parts of our lives.
The audience laughed uproariously throughout the play and leapt to its feet when the performance ended. The post-show discussion turned out to be just as performative as the play itself. Each man introduced himself and his relationship to the theatre. The last man who spoke, whose name I missed, was the funniest of the actors, and he leapt to his feet and said he couldn’t introduce himself sitting down because he’s black and from the favela and has to do things his own way. He proceeded to give a hilarious monologue for at least five minutes of fast and uninterrupted talking to explain how he got involved in Teatro na Prisão. He said that he ended up in prison and was really afraid of being made into someone’s “woman” (a degrading state of sexual subjugation in men’s prisons), so he talked big and acted tough. Then these theatre people from UniRio came into the prison and wanted to start a theatre troupe, and he said, “No way! Everyone will think I’m a woman for sure, and here I am trying so hard not to be treated like a woman!” But through a series of twists and turns he ends up in the theatre company, which at the time was so small that all the men played men’s and women’s parts, and then he was proud of the way he could play a woman. This speech was just about the funniest thing that happened on the stage all night and really could have been a stand up comedy routine. My retelling it here does not do it justice. The audience was laughing, clapping, and whistling by the end of it.
We will get to see another performance by this same group—a production of a short, almost forgotten play by Tennessee Williams called Escape, translated into Portuguese as Fuga. Can’t wait!