By Anita Kirpalani, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Those who have been in Rio long enough to hit a few hurdles while struggling with the Carioca “-shs”, the plurals “-oes”, “-aes” and “-aos ”, the double negations and so on, know what a triumph it is when you finally manage to master the language enough that you can barter Shakespeare’s idiom for that of Saramago.
The American journalist Mike Kepp, whose first play ‘Sonhando com Sotaque’ (‘Dreaming with an Accent’) opens at Compania de Teatro Contemporâneo’s theater in Botafogo this month, claims he reached a level that most of us do not even dare to wish for, the nec plus ultra of cultural acclimation: dreaming in Portuguese, albeit with an American accent.
The story is a familiar one, with Kepp arriving in Brazil on a one way ticket and a disenchanted vision of America. “When I was living in the U.S. in the 80s, it was the triumph of the “me” generation. Everyone wanted to climb the corporate ladder and earn a lot of money. When you would go to a party it was as if you would get punched in the face: ‘Who are you, what do you do?’ I didn’t want that”, he explains.
On the other hand, Brazil offered him Jorge Armado, Camus’ Orfeu Negro, and obviously Tom Jobim. He ended up staying in Brazil for 28 years, marrying a Brazilian, and writing columns on the country, its habits and etiquette.
From the point of view of a gringo, sure, but not of any gringo: a “Gringo – Brasileiro”, as Kepp calls himself. Someone who chose to change countries and to surrender to Brazil.
Sonhando com Sotaque was actually adapted by Kepp and Aramis David Correia from Kepp’s eponymous book and from his soon to be released second book ‘Tropeços nos Trópicos’ (‘Stumbling in the Tropics’) both of which compile essays he wrote on Brazil.
Directed by Fernando Maatz, the play is a humorous mix of monologues and dialogues that mainly explore cultural differences between Brazil and America – a dinner party where goodbyes never end, an English lesson that makes you tear your hair out, the difficulty to understand what the “pode ser” (could be) that Brazilians throw left and right actually means.
Kepp’s aim is not, however, to reflect exactly what Brazilian society is; “I give my subjective reading of it from the point of view of someone who loves this country more than I love my own. I hold up a distorted mirror to the Brazilian audience so that they can see themselves,” says the author who decided to shun the stereotypical discourses on Brazil (violence, drugs and crime) and focus instead on his personal experiences.
Kepp insists that everything really happened to him – even if any foreigner can relate to it – and this is one of the reasons why he decided to play his own part while the actor Richard Goulart becomes the multiple characters he interacts with. The author talks openly about himself, or about his excessively bushy hairs and how Brazilians react to it, not afraid to quite literally uncover himself.
Going from dreaming in Portuguese to acting in the language was not easy it seems. “The biggest challenge was that I am not a trained actor and it is hard to maintain an energy level for an hour and a half in Portuguese,” admits Kepp, whose only previous experience on stage was to sing in American musicals like ‘A Good Man’, ‘Charlie Brown’ or ‘Guys and Dolls’. The play actually has two songs sung by Kepp too, including a Tom Jobim one, of course.
When you ask Kepp why he loves Brazil more than America, he answers that Brazil taught him a thing or two: how to be more generous, patient and warm. But what about that clinging accent? Well maybe those who see the play will see that Tom Jobim taught him that too.
Sonhando com Sotaque
Cia. de Teatro Contemporâneo, na Rua Conde de Irajá 253, Botafogo
November 12, 19, 26 and December 3rd at 9PM.