When she died in her mid-fifties, prominent Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector left behind a body of work that defies classification. Her breakthrough novel, Near the Wild Heart, had made her a literary star in her twenties. On the occasion of what would have been her 100th birthday Group Dot BR, a New York based Brazilian theater company, has “re-stage” their interactive piece Inside the Wild Heart, inspired by the writer’s oeuvre. Originally performed in a 19th Century three story Gramercy Park studio, the production has been transported to gather.town, an online platform that enables participants to navigate through a defined space. (More on the software later.) Upon entry, audience members are assigned an avatar which they can move through a model of the studio with their arrow keys. When they approach an interactive element, they can engage with it by pressing the letter X and disengage by doing the same, creating a personalized experience.
Dominating the event is a filmed version of the 2018 production adapted for the stage by Andressa Furletti and Debora Balardini and directed by Linda Wise. The streaming version runs simultaneously on all floors represented in the gather.town “house” just as it did live. The rooms were obviously small and crowded with audience members perched on the furniture and stairways. This results in awkward camera angles and poor sound quality further muffled by Sergio Krakowski discordant score performed by violinist Mario Forte. The script — like Lispector’s novels — is more about feeling than narrative and it is possible to sense the underlying emotions and wild shifts in tone despite the technical limitations. The expressive cast includes Debora Balardini, Mirko Faienza, Patricia Faolli, Andressa Furletti, Fabiana Mattedi, Gio Mielle, Gonçalo Ruivo, Yasmin Santana, Ibsen Santos, and Montserrat Vargas. Vargas’s and Furletti’s production design such as the flowered wallpaper with eyes and a globe lamp used to see the future manages to shine through.
More successful are the other ten stops along the journey. There are stills of complex art installations, pages of a book to read, and participatory areas where audience members can write or draw. A photograph of telephones hanging off the hook is accompanied by the reading of poetry as is a film of waves crashing on the beach. But by far the most powerful segment is a video interview of Lispector herself conducted shortly before her death. She was in near-constant pain from an accident several years earlier and seems to float between frustration and pride. The unseen host skillfully elicits extraordinary answers from an author who bristles at comparison and doesn’t have much use for praise either.
While Group Dot BR is to be commended for matching their vision with a platform more easily tailored to their original “choose your own adventure” concept than Zoom would have been, gather.town may prove to be a barrier for attracting audience members who are not comfortable with technology. It only runs on Google Chrome and Foxfire by Mozilla. Being able to view Inside the Wild Heart requires two entries. If Chrome or Foxfire isn’t your default browser, you will have to copy the URL from your “magic link” generated by picking up your virtual reservation and paste it into a new tab. Navigating using the arrow keys is slow and somewhat clumsy. Chasing a character up a flight of stairs is difficult enough that you will likely miss their entrance into the next room. You can make movement a little easier by operating in “ghost mode” so you can go through rather than around the other audience members. However, their presence in a space with you will block a section of what you are trying to see, the effect being similar to having a revolving group of tall people sitting in front of you in the theater. There is a bar area in which you can turn on your camera and microphone in order to interact with other people, but no one was ever there when I visited.
For fans of Lispector, Inside the Wild Heart presents a unique opportunity to step inside and roam around her work. And while there are issues, there is also appeal here for those who miss the unique sensation of performance art not possible in the static universe of Zoom. All elements are available in Portuguese and English. Since you will always be missing something, you can have multiple experiences if you choose to return. Performances continue through Sunday, December 20, with showtimes Thursday through Sunday 7PM ET (21 hours Brazil, 1AM Europe) and Saturday and Sunday at 1PM ET (15 hours Brazil, 7PM Europe). Be aware there are scenes involving partial nudity. Tickets for all performances are $20-$50 and are available at Group.BR.com.