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Cultural appropriation: Brazilian stage productions of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot

Authors Anna Stegh Camati

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                                                                          Anna Stegh Camati1*
                                                                 UNIANDRADE, Curitiba, PR, Brasil

       The present article aims at discussing, first and briefly, the experimental
       features Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) imprinted in Waiting for Godot
       (1948-1949), among them the implosion of dramatic elements and the
       inscription of detailed performance instructions within the text itself,
       thus creating a performance model for which he used to demand respect.
       Thereupon, after addressing the 1955 first incursion of Godot in Brazil,
       a historical panorama of some outstanding stage productions of the
       play will be provided, mainly in terms of conceptualization and critical
       reception, in the light of theoretical perspectives by Oswald de Andrade,
       José Roberto O’Shea, Patrice Pavis, Peter Burke, among others.
       Keywords: Samuel Beckett; Experimentalism; Waiting for Godot; Brazilian
       Stage Productions; Cultural Appropriation

  Professor of Theatre and Drama Studies in the Postgraduate Program in Literary Theory at UNIANDRADE
University, Curitiba, PR, Brazil. She earned a doctorate in English Language and Anglo-American Literature
at the University of São Paulo and carried out postdoctoral research in performance-oriented criticism of
Shakespeare’s dramaturgy at the Federal University of Santa Catarina. She has recently coorganized a collection
of articles on Shakespeare, entitled Shakespeare sob múltiplos olhares (2016) and a collection of essays on
Brazilian stage productions of Hamlet, entitled Hamlet no Brasil (2019). She has published articles on drama
and theatre, intermediality, Shakespeare on the stage and screen, and cultural appropriations of Shakespeare’s
plays in Brazilian theatre. She is coeditor of the journal Scripta Uniandrade, Curitiba, and regional editor for
Brazil of Global Shakespeares (MIT/Boston). E-mail: ORCID:

                         Esta obra tem licença Creative Commons
36   Anna Stegh Camati, Cultural Appropriation: Brazilian Stage Productions of...

           Endowed with immense creativity, Samuel Beckett (1906-1989), Irish
     novelist, poet, critic, playwright and theatre practitioner, left an indelible mark on
     the history of European Modernism and Postmodernism, becoming one of the
     major representatives of the artistic vanguards of his time. As far as the theatre
     is concerned, Beckett undertook radical experiments, thus creating new forms
     of expression which led to the emergence of groundbreaking innovations. He
     explored the utmost potentialities of the stage, crossed medial boundaries, and
     tested the ultimate possibilities of language in search of essential formal elements
     such as presence, movement and rhythm.
           Between 1948 and 1949, Beckett wrote En attendant Godot [Waiting for
     Godot] in French, later translating the play into English. The French version was
     published in Paris in 1952 and the English translation was edited in New York
     in 1954. He repeated this experiment when writing Fin de partie [Endgame] in
     French between 1955 and 1956, translating it into English in 1958. Conversely,
     he wrote Krapp’s Last Tape (1958) and Happy Days (1961) in English, providing
     French translations for both of them in 1960 and 1962 respectively. Besides his
     full-length plays, he also published a series of experimental short plays, and
     scripts for radio, television and cinema, such as Act Without Words I (1956), Act
     Without Words II (1956), All That Fall (1956), Embers (1959), Words and Music
     (1961), Cascando (1962), Play (1963), Comédie (1963), Come and Go (1965), Eh
     Joe (1965), Film (1965), Breath (1969), Not I (1972), That Time (1975), Footfalls
     (1975), Rockaby (1981), Ohio Impromptu (1981), Catastrophe (1982), What
     Where (1983), among others. In 1969, he was awarded the Nobel Prize, which
     consecrated him as one of the greatest writers of his time.
           Martin Esslin, in his book The Theatre of the Absurd (1961), claimed that Beckett
     is one of the most illustrious absurdists. However, the vast and diversified literary
     output of the Irish playwright, which ranges from drama to the post-dramatic,
     resists categorization. Although Hans-Thies Lehmann has not acknowledged
     Beckett’s and other Anglophone writers’ experimentalisms in his polemical
     Postdramatisches Theater (1999), many of the short plays of the Irish playwright are
     reckoned as post-dramatic by contemporary theatre critics, among them Jonathan
     Kalb, Elinor Fuchs, Marc Robinson and others. Even in Waiting for Godot, his
     first successful project, Beckett displays non-dramatic elements, when he destroys
     the strictures of plot and transfers to the situation–the endless waiting per se–the
     interest that had hitherto belonged to dramatic action. Summing up, since the late
     1940s, Beckett challenged the fundamental elements of drama–action, coherent
     dialogue, time, space and dramatic illusion–discussed by Peter Szondi in Theorie
     des Modernen Dramas (1956), thus imploding the pillars of tradition.
           In 2003, during a lecture at the Goethe-Institute in São Paulo, published in
     Sala Preta, when asked whether theatre texts can be seen from a post-dramatic
     perspective, Lehmann answered positively. He mentioned Gertrude Stein’s non-
     dramatic plays as instances of textual forms that cannot be analyzed by dramatic
     theoretical frameworks, highlighting that Stein’s landscape plays, written during
     the first decades of the twentieth century, no longer fitted the conventional model,
                     Ilha do Desterro v. 73, nº 2, p. 035-048, Florianópolis, mai/ago 2020   37

since she had abolished the traditional structure, the predictable pace of dialogue
and the logical development of the narrative (“Teatro pós-dramático” 2003, 15).
     Beckett’s Godot has been related to the landscape play by Elinor Fuchs in her
innovative study titled The Death of the Character: Perspectives on Theater after
Modernism (1996), in which she argues that “In Godot, the panoramic journey
of life becomes a journey in place, without origin or destination. The linear
succession of scenes and times native to its structure has either frozen in place
or, with the same result, entropically diluted to a timeless landscape” (92). She
further clarifies that although Gertrude Stein is considered the progenitor of the
landscape play, and its proliferation has been attributed to mid-century directors
and theatre groups, among them Jerzy Grotowski, Peter Brook and the Living
Theatre, an important role in this respect must be assigned to Beckett, because it
was only after his creative innovations that

           experimental stage artists turn increasingly to staging theatrical worlds
           that no longer define themselves spatially against an unseen outside,
           or in a fictive temporal progression. These stage settings, sometimes
           representations of landscapes, as is often the case in Robert Wilson, but
           also imaginative hyperspaces, as in the productions of Richard Foreman,
           are performing worlds, elsewheres without elsewheres, imaginative spaces
           still shrewdly aware of their life in the theater. (Fuchs 93)

    The close relationship between Stein and Beckett has been widely
acknowledged. Marc Robinson compares Godot to Stein’s play What Happened:
A Play, in which no story is told and nothing happens,

           at least according to criteria followed in most theaters of the day, where
           activity earned the name only when it corresponded to behavior seen
           outside the auditorium. But much happens dramatically: a kind of
           theatrical movement–with its mechanics determined inside the play and
           affecting the writing more than the subject–supplants merely imitative
           movement. (Robinson 1997, 13)

Likewise, Beckett directed his attention to the world of the play seen as a play, free
from the strictures of rigid dramatic paradigms, thus probing into the depths of
the human condition.

Beckett’s creation of a performance model in Waiting for Godot

     Stage directions or didaskalia were absent in Greek and Elizabethan theatres,
rare in Neoclassic plays, but proliferated in the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries in bourgeois and realistic dramas. In Beckett’s plays, however, stage
directions become essential elements, since he inscribes the mise-en-scène within
the text itself. As he provides detailed acting instructions inside his plays, they
can be seen as complex performance texts, according to Marco de Marinis’s and
Patrice Pavis’s terminologies.
38   Anna Stegh Camati, Cultural Appropriation: Brazilian Stage Productions of...

          According to the semiological understanding of textuality, an image or group
     of images can be analyzed as texts, and a sculpture, a film, a musical passage, or the
     units of a theatrical production can become the object of textual analysis. Hence,
     “to speak of a performance text means to presume that a theatrical performance
     can be considered a text,” since “the textual approach to performance is linked to
     the increasingly generalized conception of the ‘text’ in semiotic theory over the
     past few years” (De Marinis 1993, 47).
          Beckett’s text Waiting for Godot as performance model also relates to Pavis’s
     notion of performance (or stage) text, defined as

                the relationship of all the signifying systems used in performance, whose
                arrangement and interaction constitute the mise-en-scène. The notion
                of performance text is therefore an abstract and theoretical one, not an
                empirical and practical one. It considers the performance as a scale model
                in which the production of meaning may be observed. The performance
                text may be recorded in a production book, a Modellbuch or another
                metatext that presents a notation (necessarily an incomplete one) of
                the staging, and in particular of its aesthetic and ideological options.
                (Dictionary 1998, 261)

          Beckett is unique in theatre history, because besides describing the scenic
     dimensions of his plays in production books or other descriptive manuals, he
     also inscribes them within his plays. The mise-en-scène

                is always written into his texts in the most literal way, showing itself in a
                theatrical language where the word is never dissociated from the place
                where it is spoken or from the concrete language of the stage, where the
                word is never conceived outside the framework of the accompanying
                gesture, the movement, place, the physical stance and the bodily posture.
                (Chabert, qtd. in Kalb 1991, 44)

          In this regard, there are some essential performance instructions in Godot
     that indicate fundamental actions within the scenic structure as, for example, the
     stage directions that announce the entrance of Pozzo and Lucky:

                A terrible cry, close at hand. Estragon drops the carrot. They remain
                motionless, then together make a sudden rush towards the wings. Estragon
                stops half-way, runs back, picks up the carrot, stuffs it in his pocket, runs
                towards Vladimir who is waiting for him, stops again, runs back, picks up his
                boot, runs to rejoin Vladimir. Huddled together, shoulders hunched, cringing
                away from the menace, they wait. Enter Pozzo and Lucky. Pozzo drives Lucky
                by means of a rope passed round his neck, so that Lucky is the first to appear,
                followed by the rope which is long enough to allow him to reach the middle
                of the stage before Pozzo appears. Lucky carries a heavy bag, a folding stool,
                a picnic basket and a greatcoat. Pozzo a whip. (Beckett 21)

         Furthermore, there are at least three other elements of theatricality to
     consider when analyzing Beckett’s plays in performance: the production of
                    Ilha do Desterro v. 73, nº 2, p. 035-048, Florianópolis, mai/ago 2020   39

presence, created by the actor’s alignment of voice and gesture to cope with the
essential rhythmic nature that informs the mood and the emotion of the words;
the alternation of presentation and representation; and the establishment of a
new type of audience/stage transaction.
     When staged, the several segments of Beckett’s plays act as frames, directing
and focalizing the attention of the spectator to the production of presence. Maria
Irene Fornes, a Cuban-American playwright, reports that when she was living
in Paris, she saw Roger Blin’s world première of Waiting for Godot. She reports
that, despite not knowing a word in French, she was deeply impressed by the
production: “But what was happening in front of me had a profound impact
without even understanding a word. Imagine a writer whose theatricality is so
amazing and so important that you could see a play of his, not understand one
word, and be shook up” (qtd. in Robinson 1999, Fornes 63). She pointed out that
the combination of gestures, blocking, rhythms of speech, tones of voice, designs
of stage space and vaudeville techniques, transmuted into emotional truthfulness,
produced effects of presence and influenced her subsequent work.
     The alternation of presentational and representational techniques has
become current in much contemporary performance art and avant-garde theater.
In Godot, a great amount of lines the performers enunciate on stage are directed
outward, addressing the audience, thus showing an alignment with the physicality
of the post-dramatic:

          […] The two realms of meaning, presentational and representational, can
          be blended into a consistent atmosphere of ambiguity without the actors
          having to make constant shifts back and forth between them. Because
          it commits to an internal logic of clowning, his Godot is light-spirited,
          physical, and sensible. And because it is choreographed with such a firm
          hand, it transcends that simple clown-sense without forcing its clowns to
          act as authorial mouthpieces. (Kalb 35)

     As has been made evident, the polyvalence of Beckett’s performance style,
inscribed in his texts, created a new model of performativity in theater history.
Unlike performers directed by other theatre practitioners, the performers that
Beckett directs

          never act a double function onstage, for their characters do not distinguish
          between living and performing. They distinguish only between spontaneous
          and rehearsed action: spontaneity makes them feel momentarily free from
          the dulling effect of the repetition that is their actorly fate. In Godot, for
          example, all references to the audience (“that bog”) and to the fact that a
          performance is occurring (“the Board”) have meaning within the action
          as fleeting attempts at spontaneity, as if delivered behind an imaginary
          fourth wall. (Kalb 44)

    It is widely known that Beckett repeatedly used to participate in rehearsals or
even direct his own plays, most of the time demanding respect for his performance
40   Anna Stegh Camati, Cultural Appropriation: Brazilian Stage Productions of...

     instructions and imposing limitations to the creativity of theatre practitioners.
     When he assumed the role of director, the actors trusted him completely, so as
     not to question the physical or vocal techniques he proposed to them and, in
     addition, “he had the good fortune of seeing many of his premières staged by two
     paradigms of loyalty–Roger Blin and Alan Schneider–who not only adhered on the
     very specific instructions in his scripts but also made frequent public comments
     about the propriety of that strictness” (Kalb 71). Even after Beckett’s death,
     professionals who detained rights upon his dramaturgy struggled to maintain
     the rigidity of the crystallized mise-en-scène of the first performances. However,
     while in the 1950s there were quite a number of directors who still believed in
     the importance of following Beckett’s staging project, such representatives have
     grown fewer and fewer with the passing of time. Among the newer generations
     of directors, Beckett’s insistence on respect for his play scripts, stage directions
     included, is generally seen as pointless conservatism. Contemporary directors
     tend to reinterpret and devise new stage directions for Beckett’s texts according
     to their own perceptions and impressions, advocating fresh insights and ignoring
     the predetermined rules of the so-called authentic Godot.
          Since its world première in French, which took place at the Théâtre
     Babylone in Paris, in January 1953, directed by Roger Blin, Beckett’s Waiting
     for Godot has been translated into many languages and performed on a global
     scale in theatres and non-conventional spaces, by amateurs and professionals. In
     September 1953, a German version of the play, titled Warten auf Godot, opened
     at Berlin’s Schillertheater, directed by Walter Henn. Two years later, in 1955, two
     productions in English ensued: one in London, at the Arts Theatre, directed by
     Peter Hall, and the other in Dublin, at the Pike Theatre, under the direction of
     Alan Simpson. In January 1956, the first American performance was staged at the
     Coconut Grove Playhouse, in Miami and, later that year, Godot had its Broadway
     production at the John Golden Theatre, directed by Herbert Berghof. Most of
     these first performances initially met with unfavorable or mixed reviews, because
     the play caused total upsetting of audience expectations. In November 1957,
     however, when Godot was presented to the inmates of the San Quentin State
     Prison, directed by Herbert Blau, the analogous waiting situation of the prisoners
     conducted them to respond positively to the performance. Thereafter, the play has
     been successfully enacted in both hemispheres by prison inmates, multiethnic
     actors in a divided Sarajevo under siege, black actors during apartheid, or with
     casts made up exclusively of female characters.

     Theoretical Perspectives for Devising a Critical Panorama of Brazilian
     Stage Productions of Godot

          As far as the process of reconstitution of stage productions is concerned, I
     agree with José Roberto O’Shea who, in an article published in 2013, challenges
     the received difference between the notions of performance analysis and historical
     reconstruction. He argues that
                     Ilha do Desterro v. 73, nº 2, p. 035-048, Florianópolis, mai/ago 2020   41

          both processes engage in reconstruction, since any live performance,
          whether you saw it last night or it happened in Elizabethan England,
          vanishes; therefore whether or not having witnessed the performance,
          the analyst engages in and mediates the critical reconstruction, and the
          analytical procedures and constraints of the practice equally apply to seen
          and unseen productions. (8)

     Hence, as in both instances reconstitution is an exercise which depends on
a reconstructive investigation based on documents and reports, to achieve the
purpose of rescuing a few of the most outstanding Brazilian Godots in terms of
conceptualization and critical reception, I shall utilize some of the numerous tools
at the disposal of the analyst recommended by Patrice Pavis (Analyzing 2006, 31-
52), among them theatre programs, interviews, publicity paratexts, press releases
and reviews, photographs, articles and other scholarly studies, statements of
intents provided by actors, directors and other members of the creative team, and
short video clips of stage productions available at youtube.
     When Godot is transposed to different sociocultural or political realities, new
approaches, methodologies and performance tendencies are used. As we shall
see, most Brazilian theatre practitioners do not limit themselves to operating cuts
or language revisions, but tend to resort to experimental performance practices
related to cultural anthropophagy, based on Oswald de Andrade’s concept of
cultural borrowing, formulated in his “Anthropophagic Manifest” in 1928. This
statement of principles, in which the modernist Brazilian writer synthesizes
his notion of creative cannibalism, confers legitimacy to the act of “devouring”
foreign cultural legacies, which, after having been swallowed and digested, are
regurgitated in new shapes and hues to express local realities.
     Andrade’s pioneering theoretical premises, which establish a dialogue
between local culture and borrowed models, have by now become current in
Brazilian and international criticism, anticipating contemporary reflections on
intercultural theater politics and practices devised by Peter Burke, Patrice Pavis
and others. Burke conveys that cultural encounters propitiate the insertion of
contemporary moral and political concerns into the performance, providing
a link between the issues foregrounded in the appropriated text and the local
circumstances prevailing at the time of reception of the stage production (2009,
55-68). Pavis expresses a similar view when he asserts that intercultural exchange
in the theatre implies in “a transaction between the source and target situations
of enunciation that may glance at the source, but that has its eye chiefly on the
target” (“Towards” 1992, 136-159).

Brazilian Godots: New Theatricalities and Cultural Anthropophagy

    Brazilian performance history of Godot starts with the outstanding fact that
Alfredo Mesquita’s amateur production, enacted by students of the EAD (Escola de
Arte Dramática) in São Paulo, premièred at the beginning of July 1955, one month
before the renowned London production, directed by Peter Hall, which opened
42   Anna Stegh Camati, Cultural Appropriation: Brazilian Stage Productions of...

     in August in that year. Two months later, due to critical and audience acclaim, the
     amateur actors were invited by Franco Zampari to perform professionally at the
     TBC (Teatro Brasileiro de Comédia), starting a new season on 6 September 1955,
     with the same cast: Luis Emanuele Corinaldi (Wladimir), Eugenio Barcellos
     (Estragon), Eduardo Waddington (Pozzo), Geraldo Mateos (Lucky), and Alceu
     Nunes (Boy). This production is minutely analyzed in an essay by Robson Corrêa
     de Camargo (“(Re)construindo” 2012, 1-19), in which he states that although
     Mesquita’s production, in its visual aspects, established a close relationship with
     Roger Blin’s performance (which Mesquita had seen in Paris), it was also marked
     by differences in performativity, mainly as concerns body language and comedic
     strategies. He also imparts that this first Brazilian production of Godot deals with
     the play within a frame of philosophical existentialism directly absorbed from
     European Beckettian reception.
          During the Brazilian dictatorship period (1964-1985), artistic activities
     experienced permanent vigilance. Play-texts were cut, performances cancelled,
     and intellectuals and artists pursued, arrested and tortured by police officers. In
     spite of these adverse circumstances, two landmark productions of Godot, one
     directed by Flávio Rangel (1969) and the other by Antunes Filho (1977), were
     staged as a sign of resistance against authoritarian military rule.
          Renata Pallottini, in her book Cacilda Becker: o teatro e suas chamas (122-
     24), reports that in 1968, Cacilda Becker (1921-1969), Brazil’s leading actress and
     political activist, who held a privileged position among her peers, got in touch
     with the politically engaged theatre director Flávio Rangel (1934-1988), who had
     been successively imprisoned for rebelling against the repressive measures of the
     military government. Cacilda asked him whether he knew any suitable theatre
     text capable of conveying the existential anguish, the sense of nothing to be done,
     but at the same time the desire to resist. Rangel suggested Waiting for Godot,
     a play he had just finished translating, encouraging her to play Estragon. In a
     few days, after reading the translated text, she accepted playing the male role,
     recommending Walmor Chagas, her former husband with whom she continued
     in close artistic partnership, to incarnate Wladimir.
          On 13 December 1968, when the AI-5 [Institutional Act Number Five] was
     promulgated and censorship became extremely rigid, Rangel was arrested again.
     In prison, he concentrated his efforts to revise his translation of Godot and devise
     a performance aesthetics compatible with his own materialist reading. After
     being released from jail, he began rehearsals with Walmor Chagas (Wladimir),
     Cacilda Becker (Estragon), Carlos Kroeber (Pozzo), Carlinhos Silveira (Lucky)
     and Cacilda’s adolescent son in the role of the Boy. Pallottini (123) contends that
     Cacilda incarnated her role with great seriousness and intensity: late one night
     the actress was taken by surprise, among carrots and turnips in her costume, a
     cigarette stub, living full time the character she had been assigned to.
          The critically acclaimed Godot, directed by Rangel, premièred at the Cacilda
     Becker Theatre in Rio de Janeiro on 17 March 1969. It was also presented at the
     official inauguration of The Municipal Theatre of São Carlos in April 1969. On
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6 May 1969, however, the season in Rio was tragically interrupted. During an
intermission, a few moments before her return to the stage, Cacilda suffered a
brain aneurysm. She was immediately taken to hospital in her clown costume,
where after 38 days in coma she passed away on 14 June 1969. This tragic event
conferred mythical status to the production and marked the beginning of the
Brazilian tradition of women playing male roles.
      Cacilda Becker’s creation of Estragon was almost unanimously celebrated by
audiences and critics. Alberto D’Aversa, in his review in O Diário de São Paulo,
asserted: “Cacilda has succeeded in creating a new acting style, hybrid and unique,
highlighting the pathetic derision of the character. Her fragile figure, graceless
and chaplinesque, contrasted with her clownesque mask illuminated by inner
life and wisdom” (qtd. in Pallotinni 128, my translation).1 The humorist Jô Soares
remarked that Cacilda died on stage, a place she loved above all, pointing out a
curious detail: “When she was taken to hospital, still wearing her clown costume,
she removed her red clown nose and handed it over to the actor Líbero Lipoli,
recommending ‘save it for me’, thus believing she would soon come back. And
I am certain she has returned. Each time I step on stage, the creaking wooden
boards denounce her presence” (qtd. in Pallottini 131).
      The fact that Cacilda died on stage amidst great critical recognition turned
her into a legend. Décio de Almeida Prado wrote, “Cacilda stands out among
her peers because of her intensity, the commitment she showed when taking on
a role, even wearing herself physically out if necessary. At her best moments, she
achieved transfiguration, turning into a burning flame on stage” (Heliodora 1987,
278). Barbara Heliodora paid homage to the actress in Jornal do Brasil on 21 June
1969, reasserting that Cacilda had always channeled her name and position in
benefit of the theatre with overwhelming courage and determination. The closing
statement of the panegyric reads: “Cacilda passed away. . . . Her example remains,
to which we must resort whenever necessary. Now that she has left us, Brazilian
theatre is greatly impoverished” (585).
      The tightening pressure of the military rule during the next fifteen years
engendered successive political waves of resistance and strengthened the impetus
to fight against the constant constraints imposed by censors. For obvious reasons,
Brecht’s dramaturgy and Augusto Boal’s “theatre of the oppressed” were elected
as the most adequate models for political militancy. At the same time, theatre
professionals felt the need to bring up to date the formal principles of Brazilian
Modernism, developing an aesthetic current based on Oswald de Andrade’s
anthropophagic manifest, which implied ritual devouring of foreign sources to
express aspects of local culture in new ways. Some of the most prolific theatre
practitioners in Brazil, among them José Alves Antunes Filho, José Celso Martinez
Corrêa and Gabriel Villela, staged Beckett’s Godot in this context.
      In spite of Beckett’s objection to casts of female actors, Antunes Filho (1929-
2019), one of the most celebrated Brazilian theatre practitioners, directed the first
Brazilian all-female version of Godot, which premièred in Brasilia, in May 1977
and, after extensive tours along the Brazilian coast from Manaus to Porto Alegre,
44   Anna Stegh Camati, Cultural Appropriation: Brazilian Stage Productions of...

     the production was presented in São Paulo in October 1977, first at the Teatro FAAP
     and later at the Teatro Municipal, always receiving considerable press coverage
     and great audience acclaim. The all-female cast of this memorable production was
     composed by Eva Wilma (Wladimir), Lilian Lemmertz (Estragon), Lélia Abramo
     (Pozzo), Maria Yuma (Lucky), and Sonia Golding or Vera Lima (Boy).
          In 2007, Eva Wilma reported to Folha de S. Paulo that after reading Waiting for
     Godot, translated by Flávio Rangel, she realized that the play mirrored the political
     unrest and suspension of legal rights adopted by the military government in 1977.
     She further recalled that when she proposed the idea of staging Godot with an
     all-female cast to Antunes Filho, he embraced the project with enthusiasm, later
     writing a significant metatext for the program of the production, which might be
     read as “Waiting for Democracy” (Wilma 2007).
          Recently, in conversation with Caio Liudvik to Folha de S. Paulo, Antunes
     Filho disclosed that his Godot emerged out of the ferment of ideas current in 1977:

                When I staged Godot, I was conditioned by the discussion of the decline
                of the West, the downfall of civilization, the hell of Auschwitz, Adorno,
                Walter Benjamin, the theatre of the absurd, and the notion that nothing
                makes sense. I introduced references to Hitler into the production and
                set it in the post-Holocaust period in order to convey a moment of crisis,
                namely the end of modernism and the beginning of post-modernism,
                a time when established values were upturned and undermined. I also
                referred to the Brazilian dictatorship. . . . But what really perplexed me in
                Godot is that in the first act the tree is leafless, and in the second act three
                or four leaves are visible. What does this mean? At first thought, that the
                situation is terrible, absurd, so it’s useless to go on. However, we do go on,
                and if we continue communicating, it’s because we want to proceed. It has
                to do with Schopenhauer’s “will power.” We hold on to life. . . . Iconoclastic
                negation constitutes an affirmation, it has an affirmative side. It means
                there is hope, at least hope in language, thus it is possible to attribute a
                mystical meaning to words, a theological sense. (Liudvik 2006)

          Furthermore, to intensify the oppressiveness of the sociopolitical Brazilian
     context, unusual sound designs, composed of musical excerpts from German Nazi
     rallies, and alarm sirens drew attention to authoritarian discourses and postures
     (V. Santos 2019). As evinced above, in the absence of a clear key for interpretation
     of the play, Antunes Filho appropriated the openness of Beckett’s text as pretext
     for a political reading, introducing contemporary global and local references into
     the performance text. He reframed Godot in consonance with Andrade’s concept
     of creative cannibalism in both content and form, tracing parallels between text,
     international circumstances and the local situation in Brazil.
          In 1998, José Celso Martinez Corrêa (1937-), known as Zé Celso, one of the most
     influential avant-garde artists and co-founder of the renowned São Paulo-based
     Teatro Oficina, adapted Cacilda Becker’s biography for the stage, appropriating
     the climactic moment in 1969 when, as we have seen, the actress, incarnating
     Estragon, suffered a brain aneurysm during the intermission of Waiting for Godot.
     His production titled Cacilda is an orgiastic memory play, in which the actress lies
                      Ilha do Desterro v. 73, nº 2, p. 035-048, Florianópolis, mai/ago 2020   45

in coma recollecting, in back and forth time flashes, her private experiences and
professional life mixed up with Brazilian theatre history (M. Santos 1998). The
performance, which lasts five hours and a half, begins with a prophetic scene set
in Hades, where Persephone prophesies the renewal of the Earth and Cacilda’s life
is chosen as an expression of this augury. Then, facts and fictions as well as real
people and fictional characters are interwoven in the construction of the myth.
The characters of Godot and other plays, which marked the professional career
of the actress, are resignified by Zé Celso’s hybrid performance aesthetics, which
combines circus techniques, slapstick, sex, pornography, carnivalization in the
Bakhtinian sense, and strategies developed by Brecht and Artaud, reconfigured in
the light of Andrade’s anthropophagic manifest.
      When Zé Celso was invited by Monique Gardenberg to present a new version of
Godot in 2001, at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil in Rio de Janeiro, he opted for a
farcical, carnivalesque approach. He reports that he decided to reframe the relationship
of dependency between Vladimir (Selton Mello) and Estragon (Otávio Müller) into a
ritual of erotic energy, inspired by a photographic essay he had bought shortly before
deciding to stage the play, shot by Roberto Garcia in 1884, which showed two tramps
in erotic circumstances in the streets of Rio de Janeiro. He further asseverated that
when he reread Beckett’s text, he found a series of textual fragments that corroborated
his irreverent and anarchic stance, which he combined with Brazilian social realities
and problems, such as poverty and violence (V. Santos 2001).
      In the same vein, cultural anthropophagy gained ascendancy in another all-
female production of Godot in 2006, loosely inspired in a recent translation by
Fábio de Souza Andrade (2005), and directed by the renowned Brazilian theatre
practitioner Gabriel Villela (1958-), who mounted a stage version, especially
conceived for the Basement Space of Sesc Belenzinho in Rio de Janeiro, a former
silo remodeled into a theatre in the round in 2003. The performance, which
extended from 3 February to the end of March 2006, was part of the celebrations
of the 100th anniversary of Beckett’s birth. When asked why he chose Godot to pay
homage to Beckett, Villela made reference to the adaptability of the text in terms
of appropriation and borrowings:

           As the meaning of Godot is not determined, you are allowed to read
           it according to your own vision and values. The sense of waiting is
           paramount, because it is the synthesis of human life. . . . Hamlet and Godot
           are two new testaments. They guide and govern humanity in the sense of
           before and after. (qtd. in Belusi 2006)

     Villela opted for a contemporary, ecological reading. The scenic space in
the form of an arena was entirely appropriate to shape the performance space as
a circus ring: the two concentric circles drawn in chalk expressed the circularity
of the fictional universe. The inner circle displayed a small wooden wheel, a tight
space where Didi and Gogo act out their circular, static movements in the process
of their endless waiting, and the larger circle, also an acting area, was surrounded by
the audience. The spatial code of the circus allowed the all-female cast, constituted
46   Anna Stegh Camati, Cultural Appropriation: Brazilian Stage Productions of...

     by Magali Biff (Vladimir), Bete Coelho (Estragon), Lavínia Pannunzio (Pozzo), and
     Vera Zimmermann (Lucky and Boy), to take a series of liberties with Beckett’s play,
     making use of clowning, mime, puppetry and physical acting techniques inherited
     from commedia dell’arte. The clowning atmosphere, in turn, contrasted with the
     stifling ambience and set design: signs of nature devastation, built into the inner
     circle of the ring–a barren tree and dried out earth-clods–simulated a desolate
     territory laid waste by forest fires as found in Brazil or elsewhere.2
           Visual elements, such as costumes and props, also indicated the
     anthropophagic impulse of the production. In his Godot, instead of deploying
     his aesthetics of excess as usual, Villela opted for simplicity. The costumes of the
     actresses were handcrafted locally, with the exception of the white linen tunics
     used over their outfits. According to the director, the linens were produced in
     southern France and modelled on nightgowns used in Parisian shelters during
     Nazi invasions. Although all five characters employ clown acting techniques, only
     Pozzo, who embodies power and domination, wears a black clown nose instead
     of a red one; and one of the hands of both, Pozzo and Lucky, is mechanical to
     indicate their relationship of ringmaster and slave (V. Santos 2006; Villela 2006).
           More recently, a series of new anthropophagic experiments have been
     successfully developed, among them the stage production directed by Elias
     Andreato (2016),3 who uses clowning performance practices and shapes the
     scenic space as an arena in the form of a huge clock (even the tree is stylized into
     two enormous clock-hands), which is valid considering that clock time plays an
     extremely important role in the play; and the version of Garagem 21 (2016-2017),4
     a theatre company whose hybrid performance aesthetics includes elements
     borrowed from Tadeusz Kantor, comics and contemporary dance concepts.

     Final Remarks

          Since 1955, there has been an ongoing process of performing Godot in Brazil
     in different historical and cultural contexts, generating new communicative
     energies and unusual expressive potentials. The play has become part of the
     Brazilian imaginary; most theatre practitioners congregate heterogenous cultural
     elements, from popular traditions to innovative aesthetic tendencies, and combine
     them with Brazilian social realities and problems, not taking into account critical
     fortunes or essentialist practices.
          Although most of the Brazilian Godots discussed in the present article are
     anthropophagic appropriations of Beckett’s play, transplanted into rich and
     varied contexts to convey local values and ideologies, this does not mean it is a
     general rule. There are theatre practitioners who tend to follow closely the textual
     and performance orthodoxies sanctioned by the Irish playwright, among them
     Rubens Rusche, one of the most respected Beckett scholars, whose expertise is
     notable and performance style extremely inventive.
          Within the tradition of staging Beckett’s Godot, the dialogical nature, cultural
     prestige, and global appeal of the play make it a favorite choice for new critical
                      Ilha do Desterro v. 73, nº 2, p. 035-048, Florianópolis, mai/ago 2020   47

endeavors on page, stage and screen. According to Roland Barthes’ viewpoint,
Godot has progressively moved away from elitist playgoers and been associated
with popular theatre. Like boulevard plays, Godot has gained large audiences,
spreading out because it “contained within itself the specific properties of its
time” (2007, 98). In this sense, the play has acquired mythical status, inviting
theatre practitioners all over the world to find new localities and social contexts
in which to translate the endless waiting of the two tramps. By now, their plight
has been continually appropriated and rejuvenated, both locally and globally.
     While in the 1940s and 1950s Godot was seen as an elitist product, by and
by it liberated itself from the hermetic imprisonment it had been launched into
by renowned critics, the guardians of generic purity. Against all odds, the play
conquered popular theatre audiences everywhere, validating Barthes’s prognosis
that: “sociologically, Godot is no longer a vanguard play” (95).

1. Henceforth, all translations of quotations from books or other sources not
   available in English are mine.
2. Fragments of Gabriel Villela’s production of Godot (2006) can be visualized on
   youtube: <> <
   com/watch?v=TF7jufp6k1o> <>.
3. Fragments of Elias Andreato’s version of Godot (2016), showing his inventive scenic
   space, are available at youtube: <
4. Fragments of Godot by Cia. Garagem 21 (2016-2017), directed by César Ribeiro,
   are available at: <>

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                                                                   Recebido em: 01/10/2019
                                                                     Aceito em: 20/03/2020