Jungle reviews: “The Asphalt Kiss”

In order to celebrate the centenary of the Brazilian playwright Nelson Rodrigues’ birth, the Stonecrabs Theatre Company, a multicultural group formed by artists from diverse backgrounds and nationalities, is staging in London one of his most famous plays, The Asphalt Kiss, until this Saturday.

Taking place at the cosy and refreshing New Diorama Theatre, the play is a carioca tragedy icon – a style developed by Rodrigues for the stories set in Rio de Janeiro –, and holds a plot that, at first sight, might look a bit démodé in an era of smartphones and 4G connections, but it is, definitely, very refreshing.

The story of The Asphalt Kiss could easily feed the pages of any English tabloid: “a pedestrian hit by a bus lies dying on a Rio street, a passerby stops to cradle him in his arms and kisses him on the lips as a parting gesture of human solidarity. The scene is witnessed by an unscrupulous reporter, who proves so successful in convincing a public hungry for scandal that the men were lovers that even the wife of the good man comes to doubt his masculinity”.

By working as a police reporter for many years, the playwright used to find inspiration in real stories, crimes of passions and, of course, fait divers like the one presented in this play – a man kissing another man in public before death. Other peculiarity about this play is the name of the journalist, Amado Ribeiro. This was the real name of one of the work colleague of Nelson at the newspaper Última Hora.

“A man kissing a man in public” might not be shocking nowadays and maybe not too shocking even during this time, regarding the circumstances in which it happened, but a faits divers will always be a faits divers.

By scrutinizing the media and its peculiar rules and hidden aims along with the corruption in the police force, Rodrigues showed to the Brazilian audience, with The Asphalt Kiss, the greedy and corrupt Brazilian media of 1960. Surprisingly, even though the newspapers don’t reach the same audience, the story could be easily transferred to our society in a social media context.

Most of the British audience is not familiar with the work of the Brazilian playwright, the majority of Rodrigues’ plays were adapted into US English; but his work compiles 17 plays, 7 novels and 8 collections from his newspaper chronicles. Nelson is famous is his country by approaching subjects like incest, betrayal, desire within the family, jealousy, rape and obsession, some of his stories also became successful series on TV.

He had the conviction that it was his duty to hold a mirror up to society’s hypocrisies and to expose the darkness in the audience’s heart. Very influenced by dramas and playwrights like Eugene O’Neil and Ibsen, and, aesthetically, by the German Expressionism, the name of the iconic Brazilian playwright is a synonym of “the theatre of the unpleasant”, name chosen by himself.

In his carioca tragedies, including The Asphalt Kiss, Rodrigues explored the lives of Rio’s lower-middle class, a population never deemed worthy of the stage before him. Also, the texts were full of colloquialisms and everyday language, turning the plays into a great challenge, even for literary translators. Other main attribute that can’t be left behind is the humour and street wise knowledge of Rodrigues’ debatable characters, intrinsic to the carioca tragedies.

The Stonecrabs Theatre Company faced the challenge of presenting the play in English and ended up pleasing the audience with humour and anguish, in a truly memorable experience, in a mix of Brazilian and English actors, making a wise use of lighting inspired by the shadows of German Expressionism.

Most of all, The Asphalt Kiss is a very good play and it is not staged frequently in this side of the hemisphere, but, mainly, no one remains unscathed after watching one of Rodrigues’ plays; they are timeless, subversive and universal.

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