You can’t escape news reports discussing immigration. It’s a global topic. While many of us think it is unique to our situation and how it affects us directly, many countries are currently experiencing this situation or have experienced it in their past. Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, right after the US. Brazil’s history is intertwined with the idea of immigration. This fact is the focus of XIX Theater Group play Hygiene. This Sao Paulo based theater company presented this production which is a reflection of the history of immigrants in Rio de Janeiro. Set in the early 1900’s, Hygiene presents a time when thousands of immigrants were pouring into the city daily, causing a wide variety of dynamic shifts within the city and the slums. The play is a powerful look into how these cultural and societal changes had an impact on the current status of living in the nation as a whole. Celebrated Brazilian actor Victor Lucena is known for performing dual roles in theater productions with great facility and believability. In Hygiene, Lucena performed the leading roles of two diametrically opposed characters; Giuseppe, an Italian immigrant living in Rio, and also as Hygienizer, a representation of the State. Hygiene won an award for Best Drama Play from the celebrated Quality Brazil Awards, and earned nominations from the Shell Theater Awards, the Bravo! Magazine Awards, and many other accolades. Paulo Celestino (writer and actor of XIX Theater Group) proclaims, “I starred alongside Victor in Hygiene and I can tell you, he is one of the most remarkable talents you’ll ever see. He possesses unparalleled versatility! He is highly recognized for this. As an actor, the highest goal is to be believable and enable the audience and other actors to lose themselves in the story. I am certain that Victor’s incalculable abilities as an actor were an irreplaceable resource for the play, and I cannot imagine another actor fulfilling the role to the same degree. I am positive that Victor’s leading roles were integral to the success of the play, which resulted in night after night of sold out perfromances.”
There is no doubt that the subject of immigration is a divisive topic, regardless of where you live. The two sides of the argument for and against it are both represented in Hygiene. As Giuseppe, Lucena delivered a sympathetic performance of a man striving to belong in his new home of Rio. Giuseppe is a talented and accomplished doctor but he struggles with the acceptance of his new life in the slums and the fact that he cannot save everyone. He often finds himself reminiscing about his home country and the way things used to be for him. This character was easy for Victor to access as he states, “Giuseppe has this nostalgic point of view about the world that I can relate to. He is always remembering his earlier days in Italy, his father’s sayings, his old home. I also used to think about my past years, especially the teenage ones. It was a wonderful time in which everything seemed perfect to me, in the same way that Giuseppe remembers his time in Italy. It can be difficult, knowing that it’s never going to come back.” The antithesis of Giussepe is Hygienizer. Hygienizer is the main antagonist of this production. He is the one who sends people off to live in the slums. For an actor to take on the visage of such an uncompassionate character is challenging but, to perform as both characters in the same play is an immense achievement, vetting Victor’s reputation in Brazil as the actor who can perform such feats. Lucena reveals, “In the beginning of my career, I used to have a hard time understanding how to do this transition. I’ve been into the theatre industry for almost 10 years now and I have performed such a range of roles that I have developed my own process to enable this quick transformation. I usually change clothes and take a look at myself in the mirror to visualize the new character. If I have time, I’ll play a song I chose for this specific character on a playlist that I have created; it’s something that allows me to quickly access their emotional state and essence. I always do breathing exercises in order to create the desired atmosphere.”
Lucena readily admits to being happy about the success of the play with public and critics alike. He feels that telling the story of this facet of Brazil’s history is something that is important to him as a proud Brazilian with roots in other countries. He explains, “In my opinion Rio is a perfect portrait of Brazil. Brazil has a strong identity based on the mix of cultures that arrived here, especially in the 1800’s. The influences of these people made Rio become what it is today, and it’s easy to recognize all the different heritages in Rio’s culture. The particular way-of-life that is Rio has been shown in movies and TV; this serves to inspire Brazil itself as well as the rest of the world. Rio is a result of such a mix of cultures that it is hard to define with one characteristic but an obvious example is Samba. This rhythm was born in the slums and conquered not only the whole city but the whole country. It can have the happiness, the lamentation, the hope, the social critics, the love of our people all at the same time. When I think of it, I am convicted of the idea that this is what I want my career as an actor to achieve; to display all of the human emotions and pitfalls. I think art is capable of entertaining us as well as educating us. It’s our responsibility as artists.”
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