Sunday, November 22, 2020

389. PARTO. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975.

Natalie Gray, Ruth Truran, Donna Faye Isaacson, Carol Cole, Carole Leverett, Coletta.
PARTO [Drama/Portuguese/Women] A: Maria Isabel Barreno and Gilda Grillo; SC Maria Isabel Barreno, Maria Teresa Horta, and Maria Velho da Costa’s book, The Three Marias: New Portuguese Letters; D: Gilda Grillo; S/C: Hortesnse Guillemard; L: Marilyn Rennagel; P: Lois D. Sasson and Olive P. Watson; T: Washington Square Church (OB); 4/18/75-5/18/75 (21)

Parto was “a bold attempt at theatricalizing unwieldy material,” wrote Mel Gussow. He was referring to a virulently feminist and controversial book written in 1971 by three Portuguese women inspired by the story of a 17th-century Portuguese nun mistreated by her French cavalier lover, and the series of notorious letters she wrote describing her ordeal. (John Simon interjected that the letters were actually written by a man and that they represented “one of literature’s most famous hoaxes.”)

One of the authors, all with the first name Maria, adapted the book into this play directed by Brazilian Gilda Grillo. The bitter drama’s title is Portuguese for “the pain of labor,” but also implies all of womankind’s sufferings in a male-dominated world.

The adaptors fused the story of the 17th-century Mariana Alcoforado (Sherry Mathis) with that of a 20th-century counterpart named Monica (Carole Cole), using the character of Joana (Donna Faye Isaacson), a friend of Mariana’s, as a link between the centuries. This methodology upset Simon, who said, “the focus becomes one big blur,” particularly since the drama is highly episodic and does not project its substance in direct, linear fashion.

Between the more or less straight segments there were interludes in which men playing eunuchs (Loremil Machado, Jelom Vieira), their heads shaved and their skin painted a deadly white, performed Brazilian  folk materials to a musical accompaniment. Among their presentations were demonstrations of martial arts prowess with long knives, witchcraft, and chanting. Interesting as these were, they had little clear connection with the play proper.

Parto suffered from linguistic deficiencies and an essentially nondramatic script. Dick Brukenfeld thought it “lovely,” but flawed by excessive reliance on “tract” elements. Gussow, declaring the work “an agonized cry to alter women’s fate,” also observed that Parto’s polemics became intrusive. Simon, among other things, picked on the “incompetence” of the acting, although Gussow noted that Sherry Mathis and Carole Cole acted “up a cyclone.”