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May 2003

Brazil's Favorite Nephew

Playwright Mauro Rasi will be remembered for his refined
use of language in which even tragic situations were injected
with humor and grace. He drew flesh-and-bone portraits of
people that every Brazilian can find in his own family.
He was also known for glorifying women.

Marianna Casta˙eda

One of Brazil's most beloved and successful dramatists, Mauro Rasi, died at the age of 53 years in his home in the Leblon neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. He had been battling lung cancer for some years, and was hospitalized in his last days to remove a tumor in his bladder. His wake took place in his home and he was buried in the English Cemetery, near the port of Rio.

Rasi helped transform the theater as one of the creators of the besteirol form of light comedy, punctuated by social and political commentary and masterful use of contemporary language. His genius lay in his ability to create uniquely Brazilian characters that went beyond mere caricatures, but were people with whom the audience could identify. Another characteristic of his works was their glorification of the female.

For this reason, his plays received numerous awards, including the prestigious Molière prize, and attracted some of the best-known television stars, like Fernanda Montenegro (of Central do Brasil), Marieta Severo, and Nathalia Timberg. His greatest success came in 1994 with Pérola, a tribute to his mother. This play was seen by more than 300,000 in Brazil. The actress Vera Holtz personified the Italian matriarch of the play and spoke of him: "Just like in his work, he was a beautiful and funny person, and he will live on in his plays."

Rasi was born in Bauru, in the interior of São Paulo state, and had a difficult childhood, raised by a domineering mother and other strong females. Because of this, his relationships with women were always complicated, though he asserted that he owed everything in life to his mother. Of his upbringing he commented: "The conflicts in my family were responsible for a great part of what I've created and what I still create."

At the young age of thirteen, he wrote his first play, Duelo do Caos Morto, for a theater competition. In it he portrayed a group of youths discussing their lives while they go off to get drunk. In the audience was the celebrated actor and director, Antônio Abujamra, who was so impressed that he personally encouraged him to continue writing. A few years later, the teenage Rasi moved abroad to Paris, where he studied piano and absorbed as much as he could about literature and theater, adding to his knowledge of French philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Simone de Beauvoir.

In his early twenties, the budding playwright returned to Brazil to pursue his theater career. His plays during the 1970s attracted much attention, among them A Massagem, Ladies da Madrugada, and Batalha de Arroz num Ringue para Dois. Those first years were marked by drug addiction, a vice that he later abandoned but never avoided discussing in public. Upon moving to Rio de Janeiro, he helped create one of the greatest representations of Carioca culture to be exported, the besteirol.

One of the busiest and most influential playwrights of the 80s and 90s, Rasi received, in 1987, the first of his 11 Molière prizes, Brazil's most prestigious theater prize, for A Cerimônia do Adeus. Other notable works were O Crime do Doutor Alvarenga, Alta Sociedade (which he himself directed and starred Fernanda Montenegro), Viagem a Forli, and O Baile de Máscaras, which was honored with four Molières in 1992.

Since 1997 the playwright had been working on a musical which was to debut this year. Music was his other passion, having studied piano in Paris. Before resuming his career in theater, he briefly entertained notions of being a concert pianist. He even expressed a desire to be Chopin, including dying young of tuberculosis. Of his wildly variable musical ability he once stated: "I made the same mistakes over and over because I wanted to interpret the music and not waste time practicing notes. I was the Maria Bethânia of piano."

His most recent work in theaters was Batalha de Arroz num Ringue para Dois, in Rio de Janeiro, and soon to be adapted for Globo Network television. (Not limiting himself to the stage, he also made forays into television, film and books, plus served as a columnist for O Globo.)

Mauro Rasi, who died April 22, 2003, will be remembered for his refined use of language in which even tragic situations were injected with humor and grace. He drew flesh-and-bone portraits of real people—characters that every Brazilian can find in his own family. It was through these characters that he demonstrated the way Brazilians interact with each other and see the world around them.

His Work

A Massagem (1972)
Ladies da Madrugada (1974)
As Mil e Uma Encarnações de Pompeu Lorêdo (1980)
Batalha de Arroz num Ringue para Dois (1984)
Pedra, a Tragédia (1986)
A Cerimônia do Adeus (1987)
A Estrela do Lar (1989)
Baile de Máscaras (1992)
Viagem a Forli (1993)
Pérola (1994)
5x Comédia (1995)
As Tias do Mauro Rasi (1996)
A Dama do Cerrado (1996)
O Crime do Dr. Alvarenga (1999)
Alta Sociedade (2001)
A Mente Capta


Armação Ilimitada
TV Pirata

Published works

A Alegria (anthology of 12 texts published by Publifolha, with the short story Ida a Tupã)
Pérola (published by Record)
Trilogia (published by Relume Dumará, with A Estrela do Lar, A Cerimônia do Adeus and Viagem a Forli)

In addition to being a researcher and student at UCLA, Marianna Castañeda is yet another Brazil-mad American who hopes to spend a significant amount of time there. You can reach her here: mcastaneda@arczip.com


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