A good-natured Brazilian has a charmed, but boring story to tell
By Joel Benjamin
Gustavo Pace, the playwright and performer of Naked Brazilian seems to be a sweet, good-natured young man who genuinely aches for a career in acting. His show purportedly tells his story: young, cute Brazilian overcomes obstacles, comes to New York City, goes to Harvard and fulfills his dream of being an actor. So far, so good.
The problem is that Naked Brazilian comes across as a light-weight fairy tale as told by an eager fourteen year old and not an adult tale of sacrifice and pain. Certainly Mr. Pace had difficulties, but they are all presented as comedy bits, the problems just rolling off his back. He laughs at his father’s abuse. He laughs at being mugged at Carnival. He laughs at nearly being arrested after a sad sexual encounter with Arthur in a car. He laughs at being homeless after being thrown out by Brad. All this hilarity masks real emotion and what surely is a fascinating story.
He never goes into his sexuality very much. After the above-mentioned tryst, he gets coy about his gayness. And, it’s never clear how he gets the money to survive in New York or pay for a three-year Masters program at Harvard.
He tells of growing up in Rio de Janeiro under the thumb of his repressive father who forces him to go to law school. He appears to have been inspired by Brazilian icon Carmen Miranda and does a very poor imitation of her. He gets to act in an amateur production of Waiting for Godot and learns some Shakespeare, both of which come in handy when he auditions for Harvard. In New York his hopes are raised by a man who purports to be a producer who screws him royally. Then a friend, Brad, coaches him—ridiculously—in scene study, takes him in, introduces Gustavo to his Midwestern family and then throws him out leading to the above-mention stint of homelessness. He gets his green card in a most miraculous way, somehow proving to his lawyer and the INS that he was an “extraordinary” person.
It all ends happily with his father coming to his Harvard Graduation.
More irritating than the play’s overall naiveté and unremittingly light tone is the fact that more than a third of the play is, for no earthly reason, in Portuguese. Why his father and brother speak their native language and Gustavo his lovely accented English is a mystery—and a frustration to all those in the audience who don’t understand Brazil’s native language.
While he spoke in Portuguese, Pace performed unfocused mime bits. It was difficult to tell if his dad was washing dishes, playing sports or fixing a car. For an actor who went through three years of acting training at Harvard, this is not good.
Certainly, Gustavo Pace means well and is earnest to a fault, but there is no meat in this theatrical meal. Perhaps he would show better acting technique in works by other authors (although his Shakespeare and Beckett were not topnotch) and under a different director. His director, Stephen Brown-Fried, did Mr. Pace no favors.
Naked Brazilian (August 12, 14, 17, 19, 21, 2016)
New York International Fringe Festival
Venue #11 – 64 East 4 Street, Mainstage, between the Bowery and Second Avenue
New York, NY