“Is anyone here named Messiah? And Jesus? No? And Holy Ghost? Is there anyone named Holy Ghost in this class? No? Are you sure?… Good.” (Athayde 3)
When you enter a theater, you often expect to be transported to a plane of heightened humanity or fantasy. Yet, what would roll through your mind if you sat in your seat, surveying a set of nothing but “a teacher’s desk..chair…and green blackboard”? (Athayde 1) The houselights come up and you’re greeted by a seemingly affable teacher who permits you to act like eighth graders again, like a coyote beckoning you into its den.
You have stepped into the world of Miss Margarida’s classroom, and you better be strapped in for impact.
Miss Margarida’s Way, an experimental play by Brazilian Playwright Roberto Athayde, turned heads when it premiered in Brazil in 1973. In fact, it was banned in said country. Why, you might ask with trepidation? How could a simple play featuring one character as a female schoolteacher raise the hackles of the heart of Brazil? According to New York Times Columnist Mel Gussow, in his July 24th, 1977 article “A ‘Confrontation’ Drama Deals with Dictatorship,” that “depending on one’s point of view, she can be seen as a dominating mother, a powerful politician, Richard Nixon or even Adolf Hitler.”
In other words, it’s “Miss Margarida’s Way” or the proverbial highway.
The plot, if there is one (hint: there isn’t), revolves around Miss Margarida who welcomes you, her students, to her eighth grade classroom and, for a few hours, tries to break you down by berating, abusing, seducing, and, ultimately, sacrificing her sanity to get “the students” to “behave.”
I read the thin script last night and felt profoundly disturbed afterward. Estelle Parsons, who played Miss Margarida in the original 1977 Broadway production (as well as a 1990 special revival) often speaks in glowing terms about this powerful piece of work. Playing Miss Margarida was “invigorating,” opined Miss Parsons in conversation with Gussow, and made her “a little crazy.” Richard Eder, reviewing the original Broadway production, observed that Margarida’s goal “is a universal human endeavor: the attempt to bring order and form to the chaos of life and the universe.”
The quote I used to open this article is a recurring refrain that Miss M (who she will henceforth be called) uses to establish her unerring superiority over her students – unless you’re God, you ain’t topping her. Berating the students as “worthless… mother-fuckers” and “arrogant bastards,” Miss M chews through the wits and nerves of the group observing her, like a Nazi officer breaking down the will of a stubborn Jew on the way to the gas chamber (here represented by the students life in high school.) She is tyrannical, vicious, and incredibly irresistible.
While reading the script, which is one long monologue with one intermission, I started to hear a familiar voice in Miss M’s words. “You can go to hell,” Miss M says. “Oh yes, the principal told me what a nice class you are. It is good to teach a docile class. I talk, you obey. It’s right there on the greenboard: The deserving ones, who are they? They are those who obey. You are all here to learn. You are paying to learn. That means there are things you don’t know.” (Athayde 7)
Doesn’t that sound circular reasoning remind you of someone?
“Now, you know, I was a good student. I always hear about the elite. You know, the elite. They’re elite? I went to better schools than they did. I was a better student than they were…” (Source)
“The words were perfect. They only take out anything they can think of, and for the most part, all they do is complain. But they don’t put on those words. And they don’t put on me saying those words.” (Source)
“We’re twenty-sixth in the world. Twenty-five countries are better than us at education. And some of them are like third world countries. But we’re becoming a third world country.” (Source)
I couldn’t help but hear Miss M’s words coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth!
It was all there: the aforementioned circular reasoning, the self-aggrandizement, the superiority over the elite and unlearned alike – it’s all there. Reading Miss Margarida’s way in the era of Donald Trump is like receiving a cryptic message from the future begging you to shape up before its too late.
Miss M: “Will you ever understand that? Sometimes you may think that Miss M. is against you. You may think that Miss M. is out to blow your minds or something. It’s not true… I myself was a student like you are today.. a model student… never punished by her schoolteacher…” (Athayde 13-14)
Trump: “I was a nice student. I did very well. I’m a very intelligent person. You know, the fact is, I think, I really believe…” (Source)
Miss M: “Don’t you suppose that Miss M… is going to teach you… sex education?… Don’t you suppose that Miss Margarida is going to show you her organs. The principal forbade me to take my clothes off in front of you. Not even my tits can I show you.” (Athayde 7)
Trump: ““Is it wrong to be more sexually attracted to your own daughter than your wife?” (Source)
Miss M: “You must understand that here you have no active voice. You are in the hands of Miss M. You will not be heard about anything at all. It is as if you didn’t exist. But of course you have to pay for it. You have no choice.” (Athayde 39)
Trump: “Give me clean, beautiful and healthy air – not the same old climate change (global warming) bullshit! I am tired of hearing this nonsense.” (Source)
I could go on for hours, but I believe you’ve seen my point.
There really isn’t a moral to this little lesson I’m giving you. Just read Miss Margarida’s Way, and study the enemy. The enemy that seeks to silence, defame, and neglect you.
Only then will you be able to fight the beast on equal ground.
Athayde, Roberto. Miss Margarida’s Way: Tragicomic Monologue for an Impetuous Woman. New York: Avon Books, 1979. Print.
Steven Krage is an award-winning writer, author, blogger, film historian, playwright, podcaster, classical musician (opera singer and pianist), actor, librarian, rare book collector, and professional eccentric who lives and breathes pop culture of the past, present, and future. His recent acting roles include Mr. McQueen (Urinetown), Carmen Ghia (The Producers) and a monologist in the final Chicago cast of the Listen to Your Mother Festival. He is currently writing a book-length biography of infamous Marx Brothers foil, Margaret Dumont: The Marx Sister. “I’m not a stooge, I’m the best straight woman in Hollywood. There’s an art to playing it straight. You must build up your man, but never top him, never steal the laughs from him.” – Margaret Dumont. (For more information, please visit StevenKrage.com!)