Review: "Inside the Wild Heart" More Than Meets the Promise of Its Title [UPDATE: Run Extended]

Inside the Wild Heart

Conceived by Andressa Furletti and Debora Balardini, based on the works of Claire Lispector

Directed by Linda Wise

Presented by Group .BR via

November 27-December 20, 2020 [UPDATE 27 Jan. 2021: Performances continue Friday, February 12 through Sunday, March 28, 2021]

Photo by Erika Morillo
As we have settled into pandemic life, we have gotten used to theater, with a very limited number of exceptions, being something that takes place on YouTube or Zoom. And while some productions have made very inventive use of the features of these platforms, the current offering from Group .BR, New York's sole Brazilian theater company, takes virtual theater very literally somewhere new. Inside the Wild Heart, a celebration of the work of lauded Brazilian fiction writer Clarice Lispector (1920-1977), through, a browser-based service which allows for the creation of custom virtual spaces. Inside the Wild Heart, the title of which alludes to Lispector's debut, stream-of-consciousness novel, Near to the Wild Heart (Perto do coração selvagem [1943]), is an immersive work last mounted in 2018 at Gramercy Park's 19th-century Aich Studios. The current production translates this experience into digital space to superb effect and will commemorate "Clarice Day" on December 10th, marking Lispector’s centennial with a talkback, panels, readings, and discussions.
Photo by Livia Sá
Inside the Wild Heart sets you free to wander its top-down map with your avatar, both charmingly reminiscent of an 8-bit video game. You are free to follow your fancy for two hours among the virtual space's three floors (and a mezzanine), interacting with videos of the live performances, other video artifacts, photographic images, and even a whiteboard on which you can leave a message. Audience members have the choice to keep their cameras on or off, and the avatar moves using the computer's arrow keys and interacts (and stops interacting) with objects and artifacts using the x key. Generally, a camera icon in a room indicates a photo and a TV icon indicates a video, but audience members can also look for the "press x to interact" message that pops up in proximity to various objects. There is absolutely no need for even the most inexperienced user to worry about the interface: the one of us who found attempting to move in a straight line in Mario Kart to be too challenging navigated about quite happily here. And if any problems do arise, a member of Group .BR is available for questions on the first floor or through the chat box. We do, however, recommend headphones for the best experience.
Photo by Livia Sá
As would have been true with the in-person production, the complete freedom to move through the immersive environment means that one can't see everything in one visit. Performance videos (primarily in English subtitled in Portuguese) begin and run concurrently on all three floors of the space (the actors do end up together in one place at the very end). So how much of or what kind of a narrative one comes away with will vary widely, but as it says on the wall of one room, "getting lost is also a way." To point to just a fraction of what we witnessed, you might encounter a woman using and rearranging books as a sort of floor-is-lava path and surreptitiously ringing a bell to wake a man sleeping in a chair who was earlier woken by the touch of a rose; a conversation between two women over coffee in a kitchen become heated when it turns to one of the women's affair; or an in-depth TV interview with Lispector herself. You might also come across a woman considering her desire to kill while standing over another costumed as a roach, or you may happen upon a woman in her bathrobe at a long food-laden table holding forth about time and the clock, dream and reality, and the nature of God while a cat wanders the floor. You will definitely see expressive physicality, sprinkled with striking images such as a character mounting a staircase prone and feet-first or another in a clawfoot bathtub full of shredded paper, as well as terrific, impassioned performances all around from the cast: Debora Balardini, Mirko Faienza, Patricia Faolli, Andressa Furletti, Fabiana Mattedi, Gio Mielle, Gonçalo Ruivo, Yasmin Santana, Ibsen Santos, and Montserrat Vargas.
Photo by Livia Sá
Even the most constantly mobile audience member will notice recurring themes of love, from the maternal to the romantic, its anticipations, delights, pains, and contradictions; of freedom and imprisonment, including by one's own fear; of joy, and God, and guilt. Experiencing all of this using gives the sense of actually moving in and through the show's visually (and, with fantastic music from Sergio Krakowski, aurally) rich, even sumptuous space in a way that a Zoom or YouTube performance simply couldn't replicate. The presence of members of the in-person audience in the videos further enriches the experience.

Clarice Lispector has in recent years begun to be more widely known and discussed in the United States, and Group .BR's innovative, unique, and engrossing virtual performance of Inside the Wild Heart will only continue to raise her profile and that of Brazilian theater in NYC.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards


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