he last day of last year 2006 brought a very sad notice to Brazilian linguists and theater people: João Bethencourt, our most important and brilliant comedy writer, passed away. Born in Hungary in 1924, he and his family would come to Brazil ten years later.
Above all, João Bethencourt was a theater man. Graduated from Yale Drama School, he made almost everything one can do in theater. He was a renowned playwright and director.
His mother tongue was, of course, Hungarian, "rumored to be the only language the devil respects," and Hungarian speakers are supposed to easily learn other tongues. João Bethencourt, however, exceeded the standardwas fluent in Portuguese, French, English, German, Spanish, Italianto the point of making jokes, and had a good knowledge of many other European languages. The last work he did was to stage Molière´s L´Avare. He went to the authentic (and irregular) 17th-century sources to write a remake of the old French masterpiece in contemporary Brazilian language, which he then went on to direct. He was over 80 of agebut a young man, with bright eyes behind the thick glasses.
His most successful translation was A Gaiola das Loucas (The Cage of Fools), in the first version presented in Brazil.
Other than translating and working on foreign texts, he was also translated. One of this works, O Dia em que Raptaram o Papa (The Day They Kidnapped the Pope), was staged in 42 countries, and was a big hit in Germany, France, Spain, and The Netherlands. The idea is amazing: on a visit to New York, the Pope comes out of St. Patrick's Cathedral and, confused by a thunderstorm gets into a taxi. The driver, Sam Leibowitz, kidnaps him and takes him to his Brooklyn apartment where he holds him for a special ransoma day of world peace. The Leibowitz family is stunned by this act and Sam's bewildered wife fixes a lunch, saying, "Call the children; call the Pope."
João Estevão Weiner Bethencourt had also other concerns: as a Brazilian citizen, he was Secretary of Culture of the State of Guanabara (presently merged in the State of Rio de Janeiro), and was always ready to help in any project aiming at improving the access to culture by the poor. In the last eight years of his life he volunteered in the jury evaluating plays written by teenagers with the theme of drug abuse and its consequences, organized by the Rio de Janeiro administration. That meant reading and classifying approximately seventy plays a year.
He also taught Dramatic Technique for playwrights at university level and in workshops. I came to know him during one of these workshops, and we became friends. It was very easy to be a friend of hisand practically impossible to dislike him. He was very kind and well-humored all the time. As reported by his widow, the actress Margot Bethencourt, his loving life mate, on his last day of life, in one of Rio de Janeiro´s best hospitals, feeling uncomfortable with many tubes all around him, he told the nurse that he had known more comfortable five-star services.
And this was the last laugh he gave us. And the only opportunity for tears.
Anyway, there are thousands of laughs left in over 40 plays.