17Jan
Roberta Levitow January 17, 2008 No Comments

Asphalt Kiss

by Nelson Rodrigues

As a pedestrian hit by a bus lies dying on a Rio street, a passerby stops to cradle him in his arms and kisses him on the lips as a parting gesture of human solidarity. But the scene is witnessed by an unscrupulous reporter, who proves so successful in convincing a public hungry for scandal that the men were lovers that even the wife of the Good Samaritan comes to doubt his masculinity.

Nelson Rodrigues was born in Recife, Brazil in 1912, the fifth child in a family of 14 siblings. His father struggled as a newspaper reporter for years, and when Nelson was four his family moved to Rio de Janeiro hoping for better times. There the family's fortunes changed as Mario Rodrigues worked his way up Rio's cutthroat newspaper industry until he was able to found his own newspaper. At 13, Nelson began working at his father's newspaper, and by 14 he was writing his own column.

After experiencing a brief period of wealth and stability, the Rodrigues family suffered a series of crushing setbacks. First, older brother Roberto, a brilliant graphic artist, was murdered by a socialite angry over the newspapers coverage of her affair with a well-known Rio doctor. Then, a few months later, Rodrigues' father, despondent over his son's death, dies of a massive stroke. And, shortly after that, the family newspaper is closed by the government after a coup d'etat. These tragedies, plus several others, are to be reflected in Rodrigues' writings and plays.

From his very first play, Woman Without Sin in 1941 (about a society lady who runs away with her black chauffer), Rodrigues shocked and divided Brazilian audiences. He steadfastly refused to veer from his focus on the personal even when it became fashionable to write Brechtian social theater in Brazil, “You have to go down into the depths of man. He has two faces, one beautiful and the other heinous. He will only find salvation if he passes his hand over his face and acknowledges his own heinousness.’”

His second play, The Wedding Gown, is considered a watershed in Brazilian theater as Rodrigues revealed his mastery of his craft by overlapping moments in time and place in order to create a more dynamic vision of reality. The play has been described as a jigsaw puzzle — we are left to interpret the truth from the disjointed hallucinations of a woman lying on an operating table after suffering a serious accident.

From 1941 until 1965 Rodrigues wrote 15 full-length plays (he would write two more later in life). His plays are frequently divided in 3 groups: Psychological plays, Mythical plays and Carioca tragedies. In his Carioca tragedies Rodrigues explored the lives of Rio’s lower-middleclass, a population never deemed worthy of the stage before Rodrigues. The supreme example of this genre is The Asphalt Kiss, a play in which we see a man’s life unravel because of one noble act. “[The play] confronts current-day questions of homophobia and tabloid sensationalism in prophetic fashion,” according to The New York Times.

Nelson Rodrigues also wrote nine novels and thousands of newspaper columns. A collection of his newspaper columns based on his crime reporting recently became a bestseller. He is also considered one of Brazil’s finest sports writers. Rodrigues died in Rio de Janeiro on December 21, 1980. 

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