Tópicos do Teatro

Final Exam - December 2008 - FFLCH/USP

 Profa.Dra.Maria Silvia Betti




1)  Arthur Miller's “Death of a Salesman”: how is the representation of the past constructed in the play, and what are the effects produced?


         In Arthur Miller's “Death of a Salesman”, “flashbacks” are a constant, and they are presented as if they were Willy's own memories, which suddenly pop up during a present action, helping us to better understand characters' reasons and circumstances. And as Willy's mental state is deteriorating, the boundaries between past and present are gradually destroyed, making the two times to co-exist in parallel.


The principal effect of such return to past is that each character's profile becomes revealed as the play unfolds, allowing the public to have the real human dimension of all of them. The scene selected to illustrate is one of such “pop-ups”, which occurred in a restaurant’s bathroom, and it refers to Willy's memories on the day when Bliff occasionally discovered that he was with another woman in a hotel room



·       Biff: (his weeping breaking from him) Dad...


·       Willy: (infected by it) Oh, my boy-She's nothing to me, Biff. I was lonely...


·       Biff: You-you gave her Mama's stockings! (His tears break through and he rises to go)


·       Willy: (grabbing for Biff) I gave you an order!


·       Biff: Don't touch me, you liar!


·       Willy: Apologize for that!


·       Biff: You fake! You phony little fake!


·       Willy: I gave you an order! Biff, come back here or I'll beat you!...I gave you an order...



2)  David Mamet's “s”: discuss the function of the “who stole the leads?” element in the play.


         First of all, we must understand the symbology of the set of leads (potential customers) that the real estate company management is dangling in front of its luckless sales representatives. Thus, the “leads” work just like some sort of “golden carrot” to be handed out to the most productive salesmen. So, the mystery involving the leads theft illuminates the desperation of all the salesmen, who put forth a great deal of effort with little payoff.


However, it is surprising to realize that such practices are a constant in the competitive business environment of nowadays, being the "leads" in Mamet’s play also a way to somehow “materialize” such individualistic and competitive spirit, typical of capitalist society. The contest announced by Blake, a kind of sales manager from the head office of a real-estate company, is very representative of suck role played by the set of leads:


·       Blake: ‘Cause the good news is — you’re fired. The bad news is you’ve got, all you got, just one week to regain your jobs, starting tonight. (…) As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anyone want to see second prize? Second prize’s a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired. (…) You got leads. Mitch and Murray paid good money. (…)You can’t close the leads you’re given, you can’t close shit, you ARE shit, hit the bricks pal and beat it ’cause you are going out!!!


·       Levene: The leads are weak.


·       Blake: ‘The leads are weak.’ Fucking leads are weak? You’re weak.




3)  Lilian Hellman's “The Little Foxes” and Tennessee Williams's “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”: Compare the aspects of form in the two plays.


         Nowadays, Lilian Hellman's “The Little Foxes” may even be understood as an example of a play written in accordance to a more classical format. Purists, on the other hand, could say that the play is an example of a bad text, since, according to them, “a well-made play normally contains a plot based upon a withheld secret, steadily mounting suspense relying on precise timing, a climax in which the secret is revealed, and a logical denouement or resolution of all loose ends” (www.answers.com). Some other narrow-minded critics go even far as to say that “The Little Foxes” is no more than a simple ‘melodrama’.


         The fact is that Lillian Hellman drama is not constructed in an obvious, expected format, a climax effectively exists in it: perhaps not the type of climax that would make the common spectator happy, leading the audience to bliss. But, instead of it, “The Little Foxes's” climax provokes a sensation of great discomfort, due to Regina's complicity in Horace's death. But the most innovative feature in the play is, perhaps, the fact that Hellman gave voice to the feminist themes, as the play challenges the stereotypical domestic role for women, besides confronting the current concept (in the 40's and still today) of excluding women from direct participation in business negotiations.



         Tennessee Williams, on the other hand, is generally regarded, along with Eugene O'Neill and Arthur Miller, as one of the greatest American dramatists of the 20th century. Similarly to Lilian Hellman's play, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” is set in the American South and tells the story of a wealthy planting family, which is unable to come to terms with its past, being ravaged by feelings of lust, greed and envy. The play also makes us to remind "The Little Foxes", because it also tells the story of the conflicts involving a strong, powerful character (Regina Giddens/Big Daddy) and a weak, fragile handicapped individual (Horace Giddens/Brick Pollitt).


         But the most innovative aspect of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, is its theme, primarily a story about a troubled marriage (Maggie and Brick), possibly hiding a homosexual relationship (Brick and Skipper), besides other topics considered ‘taboo’ for the values of a happy American family of the 50's, like father and son’s inability to communicate (Big Daddy and Brick), or a family squabble over an inheritance (Brick and Maggie versus Gooper and Mae).




4)  Alan Bennett’s “Talking Heads”: In the monologues in this series, speech is often far more revealing to the audience or to the readers than characters seem to be aware of. Illustrate this with elements extracted from at least two of the monologues and comment on the effect produced.


The book “Talking Heads” contains a series of dramatic monologues written for the television by British playwright Alan Bennett. Although the plays deal with a variety of subjects, there are some recurring themes in them, such as loneliness, hubris, and romantic irony.


In “Bed Among the Lentils”, Susan, an alcoholic almost out of control, questions her own life and her status as wife of a vicar, who is adored by his parishioners but unable to suspect about the reasons for the disappearance of the altar wine or the affair that his wife is having with a neighboring grocer named Ramesh. And, from this painful but hilarious process, she end up discovering something about herself and about God.



Susan begins with a very opportunistic point of view of sex, finding a way not to confront the religion imposed more by circumstances than, properly, by any conviction: “Sex is nevertheless the supreme joy of the married state and a symbol of the relationship between us and God” (p. 30).



However, from this point on, she also begins to doubt about her creeds, in a gradation that follows her outbursts in maintaining an extramarital relationship, as if she was seeking a justification for herself.


·       “We were discussing the ordination if women (…). I wanted to say, [that the services] can be taken by a trained gorilla” (p. 32);


·       “It could be that Geoffrey doesn’t believe in God either” (p. 31);


·       “You never see pictures of Jesus smiling, do you?” (p. 37);


·       “Do you think [that Jesus] ever smirked?” (p. 37);


·       “And the fan club lapping it up, thinking they love God when they just love Geoffrey” (p.38);


·       “I never liked going to one church so I end up going to two” (p. 41);


·       “But that’s the thing nobody ever says about God… he has no taste at all” (p. 41).



She also reveals, through en extensive monologue, the vicar’s lack of attention upon her, particularly through the following passages:


·       “Geoffrey suddenly remembered he was burying somebody in five minutes and took himself off” (p.37);


·       “The communion wine. It’s gone. (…) [The bottles] were not open. We haven’t run out. There was a full bottle here on Friday. Somebody has drunk it” (pp.37-38);


·       “So how did you come to AA? (…) The vicar (she answered, lying). He persuaded me” (p.38);


·       “Only when it becomes plain to Geoffrey (and it takes all of three weeks) that Mrs. Vicar is finally on the wagon, who is it gets the credits?” (p. 40);


·       “[the vicar] included it in his sermons (pretending that he cared, but being more concerned about the impact of the story over his parishioners), [the betrayal] which they’d all prayed over what he calls ‘my (Geoffrey’s) problem’” (p. 40);


·       “It practically sent me racing back to the Tio Pepe even to think of it” (p.40);


·       “They think it’s brought us closer together. Geoffrey thinks that too” (p.40);


·       “Result: he starts telling it all over the diocese” (p.40);


·       “He grips my hand in public (not even realizing she hates it). ‘We’re a team’, he cries” (p. 41).



But her tone changes, whenever she refers to her lover, not failing, however, to get Christian references that could legitimize her act:


·       “(...) though Ramesh may be his Christian name. Only not Christian of course” (p. 33);


·       “(…) loincloth underneath. All sportless. Like Jesus” (p. 38);


·       “There among the lentils on the second Sunday after Trinity” (p. 38);


·       “(….) the beautiful Mr.Ramesh, twenty-six, with wonderful legs” (p.39);


·       “Mr.Ramesh sold his shop (she declared with certain disdain). He’s gone back to India to fetch his wife” (p. 41);


·       “They do that, of course, Asians, build something up, get it going nicely, then take the profit and move on. It’s a good thing. We ought to be more like that, more enterprising” (p. 41).



And, for those who wonder that such a confession is something limited to any theater text, I invite to watch one of the various many public testimony daily broadcasted through television, showing that even bizarre or desperate situations sometimes ceases to belong to the sphere of the private, becoming public themes from the mouth of people who seem to have lost their own way.


         Changing the monologue, let us now analyze “Her Big Chance”, which brings Lesley, a failing aspiring actress who, after several unpromising roles on TV, realizes that she deserves the principal role in a new film for the West German market. However, she is not able to understand that she is actually appearing in a pornographic film. And probably due to the difficulties that she has most certainly experienced during her alleged career, Leslie became a weakened person who desperately needs all sort of tips from an American self-help book in order to survive.



The following passages are representative of her naivety or failure to understand the real circumstances around her:


·       “Only Rex came over to say they’d put me in a musquash coat to suggest I was a sophisticated woman” (p. 56);


·       “Book? This is ‘Tess’, Simon. Roman Polanski.” (p.58);


·       “We’re both professionals, Simon” (p.58);


·       “Please don’t misunderstand me. I’ve no objection to taking my top off. But Travis as I was playing her wasn’t the kind of girl who would take her top off. I said, ‘I’m a professional, Nigel. Credit me with little experience. It isn’t Travis’” (p. 63);


·       “I said, ‘Nigel, I don’t think the two are incompatible. I can apply sun tan lotion and read at the same time. That is what professionalism means’” (p. 63);


·        “(…) is Travis the type to go topless?” (p. 64);


·       “Nigel. Trust me. Travis would not do that” (p. 64);


·       “Offer the gentlemen a drink, Travis. Then go and take your clothes off. There’s nothing I like better than making love after killing a policeman” (p. 65);


·       “So when the policeman is saying all this about the horror of drugs you can see it comes as a revelation to Travis (…): she thinks it’s just been ordinary crime and stealing electrical goods” (p. 66);


·       “Don’t you think that Travis, drained of all emotions by the death of her love, would perhaps ling on to the policeman (…) and that they would celebrate his deliverance by having sexual intercourse there and then?” (p. 66);


·       “Günther, There’s no need to explain, We’re both professionals” (p. 67).



In the passages below, Leslie clearly reveals how easily she may be manipulated by others, as she is totally unable to realize what is actually happening:


·       “He said, ‘In an ideal world, Lesley, I’d be happy to sit here chatting all day but I have a pretty tight schedule (…) could I see you in your bra and panties?” (p. 58);


·       “I don’t care if you play a championship game of ice hockey, just don’t get pregnant” (p.61);


·       “Chess? Aren’t you the one who can water-ski?” (p. 61);


·       “Listen, who do you think you’re playing, Emily Brontë?” (p. 64);


·       “Afterwards Günther explained that (…) the final scene of them making love, the message being that sexual intercourse is better with someone you’re in love with (…)” (p. 67);


·       “As Günther said to me that night, ‘It’s a very moral film only the tragedy is, people won’t see it’” (p. 67);


·       “Leslie, I make it a rule never to lay a finger on an actress until the whole thing’s in the can” (p. 67);


·       “Listen, If someone is a bad actress I can’t sleep with her” (p. 67).



Insecurity about herself is revealed through a supposed lack of acting skills, as per the following passages:


·       “I must must must get involved, right up to the hilt” (p.56);


·       “I never get to do serious parts” (p. 57);


·       “I’m not a smoker. I mean, I can smoke if a part requires it. I’m a professional” (p. 57).



·       “I know something about personality. There’s a chapter about it in this book I’m reading” (p.58);


·       “That’s one of the points in the book: purpose and use of name” (p. 58);


·       “That was another of the sections in the personality book: humor, usefulness of in breaking the ice” (p. 59);


·       “The drill for saying goodbye is you take the person’s hand (…), clasp it warmly, while looking into their eyes, smiling and reiterating their name” (p. 60);


·       “Did Nigel tell you I’ve learned chess?” (p. 61);


·       “Nigel, I don’t have French but what I do have is a smattering of Spanish, the legacy of several non-package type holidays on the Costa del Sol” (p. 62);


·       “I’m quite petite, only she was on the large side and whereas my hair is auburn hers was definitively ginger” (p. 62);


·       “Did I give Günther what he wanted? Is he happy?” (p. 64);


·       “But Günther, I said, can I ask you one question? Was I Travis? Were you pleased with my performance?” (p.67);


·       “I’m going to acquire another skill. Spoken Italian. Selling valuable oil paintings. Canoeing. You see, the more you have to offer as person the better you are as an actress. Acting is really just giving” (p. 67).



This monologue makes me remember a similar passage of Robert Altman’s film Nashville, in which a young woman is obliged to do a striptease while singing a song for a male audience, with the promise of leveraging her career as a singer.



5)  According to Hans Thies Lehmann statements in “O Teatro Pós-Dramático”, point out and briefly comment on the presence and the effect of the so-called “post-dramatic” characteristic in one of Beckett's short plays or “dramaticules” in the program of the course.


The notion of “post-dramatic theater”, created by the theatrical German researcher Hans-Thies Lehmann, is not primarily focused on the drama itself, involving, instead, a performative aesthetics in which the text is considered from a special relation with the staged material. Thus the post-dramatic theater is striving to produce an effect among the spectators rather than simply to remain faithful to the text.


         To illustrate, I have selected parts of the dramaticule “Come and Go”. First of all, its short length is the main factor that makes explicit Beckett's intention of devaluating the dramatic text, as there would be no need of long, consistent dialogues, focusing the situation performed instead. Also, the name of characters (‘Flo’, ‘Vi’ and ‘Ru’) gives the exact dimension of the lack of importance given to the construction of characters ethos or psyche, being their ages explicitly undetermined.


         There are various references to “silence” between the few speeches (twelve in only two pages!), besides passages like “Let us not speak” (p.194) and “May we not speak of the old days?” (p.195). In the notes on pages 196-197, the positioning on stage and hand gestures are very marked, indicating the importance given to the physical performance, a very post-modern characteristic. Other references to ‘Lighting’, ‘Costume’, ‘Seat’, ‘Exits’, ‘Sound’ and ‘Voices’ suggest a certain economy in such supporting resources, if compared to the well-marked performance of actors on stage.