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Luiza de Jesus - The Killer of the Wheel

April 29, 2021 Off By Rui Freitas

Luiza de Jesus


Luiza de Jesus, 23, was sentenced on July 1, 1772 to:

“With tether and trading on public streets, and used, be attenuated, and taken to the place of the gallows; and her hands will be severed in it: After that, natural death of withers will die: And given this, let his body be burned, and reduced to ashes, so that there will never be a memory of such a Monster again ”.


Luiza de Jesus - A Assassina da Roda Artes & contextos A Sentenca

The Sentence (from: Jornal Expresso)


At the sound of this trading session, as sentenced by the House of Supplication (current Court of Appeal), under a dirty-white tunic, and a dark, staggering and miserable-looking cloak, Maria Henrique enters the scene, incarnating Luíza de Jesus, the murder of 33 babies, (34, in some documents, but only 28 confessed).

Luíza collected the children at the Real Casa dos Expostos, (Casa da Roda) of the Misericórdia de Coimbra for the amount of 600 kings, (approximately 11 euros today)(1) with a commitment to support and raise them up to seven years of age. This compensation system was instituted in 1673 by Prince Pedro, precisely to combat infanticide and the abandonment of unwanted or impossible children by the parents.

From the work of Rute de Carvalho Serra, adapted by the author herself, Maria Henrique staged Luiza de Jesus - The Killer of the Wheel, where she represents the protagonist and the only character on the scene.


Artes & contextos - What moved you when you read this book to make you feel the need to take the responsibility of telling it?


Maria Henrique - First, be such a strong story of the potential serial killer European, woman and having been such a brutal thing, in the way she was treated, therefore, both the behavior that Luiza de Jesus allegedly had, and the behavior of who, supposedly, will have judged and tortured her. In addition, the fact that it is a true story and that it happened in Lisboa and has to do with our past, because we often forget where we came from and I think it is very important to remember our History.


B.C - How did this book get into your hands? was it occasionally, was it more of a book or was it a particular interest that the title sparked? ”


MH - I am thirsty for culture, I am thirsty for information, I am always listening to things watching documentaries, listening to the radio, good interviews and I got hit by chance, I was on my way to work, an interview by Rute Carvalho Serra talking about the launch of his book that was the result of research for years in Torre do Tombo, about true facts and I immediately thought, “research, true facts, in Portugal, this theme fascinates me”. I started to investigate, to investigate and I became more and more sure that I would have to get in touch with the author. It was so.


Like what they do to you, when someone wants to talk to you or ask for advice and use social media, Maria did so. Without any other form of contact, she resorted to this medium, to which the author responded with all kindness.

She was curious about Maria's fascination with the work, they agreed to meet to talk and thus made themselves known to each other. Maria feels - says - “a vehicle of messages, with the function of informing the public through entertainment, of feeding culture constantly”. They shared the affinity of interests and discovered a complicity that easily led them to a mutual commitment: the actress and director would schedule the play and at the same time the author was available for the dramatic adaptation of the literary work.

In addition to her years of experience as a criminal investigator for Rute de Carvalho Serra, her prompt availability and her taste for theater, Maria considers that: “the secret is that we, both of us, are modest people, with the ability to say, “I know this far, from here I need your help” and vice versa. In that sense, I think we have formed and formed a good team ”.


B.C - Now, let's go back to the stage, or the dressing room, and the question is: How did 30 years of career prepare you for this moment? For the Luiza de Jesus?


Maria Henrique is transfigured and reconfigured again and again, under the dominion of Luíza de Jesus who owns her; she is condemned on the way to the gallows, while being attenuated (burned with red-hot tongs), a lost face without an identifiable expression, but not only. She is Luíza, a 10-year-old child trying to understand why her mother abandons her, she is Luíza's mother abandoning her, she is the lawyer, the apothecary who rapes her and Antónia the other captive girl of the executioner.

You drag yourself, you fall and you get up, you throw yourself across the floor, always with a face and a body for each voice, voices that shouldn't be there. They are masks that come out of the interior, to give faces to the misery, to the countless amazement. Everything comes from the bottom of the same being, from the same body from the same face, from the same throat. Only one. Everything and everyone, all, are alone on the black and gloomy stage, everything and everyone, all at the same time in Maria Henrique.


Maria Henrique em Luiza de Jesus a Assassinna da Roda ©Filipe Ferreira

Maria Henrique in Luiza de Jesus - the Assassin of the Wheel  © Filipe Ferreira


MH - I think we're never prepared. We can have more tools than other people with less experience and I tried to use all the tools I had and continue to research, to acquire more tools during the process, because for me art is a constant evolution and I think that while we are alive we will be constantly learning. Thirty years of career, certainly the experience and the tools, help, but what I have grown and what I learned from this process is unimaginable.


B.C - Okay. So, going back even further inside, if you'll excuse me, beyond the usual work of preparation that any character requires, how does an actress prepare to let herself in and dominate her for an hour, once woman who murdered barbara and coldly 34 babies?


MH - (Hmmm) it's true… I really like to be careful of - we are human, we don't always succeed, but - I try to do a type of work that is as follows: it's almost like that English expression: “in somebody's shoes”, that we in Portuguese use “on someone else's skin”, I think that the healthiest way for an artist to put himself on someone else's skin, is to be aware of himself, what for, after having been in the skin of someone so difficult , get back to your own skin. I think that this is always my job and what I have to pay a lot of attention to, because if not, imagine that, so much fear of research on such tough characters, they could come to affect me, me personally and my relationship towards others. Therefore, I try very hard to do this work "now I am" ... "now I am Luiza", but "now I am back to Maria". This is not easy to do, it seems very beautiful to say, it is not easy, but I also try to share what I do, with my students and even with my actors, when I direct my colleagues, because I think that is the way to keep ourselves as healthy as possible, because we - as I said a while ago - being vehicles that convey messages, if we let ourselves become too contaminated, we can get sick and it cannot be, if not, we run out of tools.


B.C - He ended up answering a question that I had to follow, which was a little more elaborate, maybe it was: how is it that, being Maria, as I think she is, a positive person, and assuming that she embodies that deeply evil character, pass the expression, that cruel murderer, how do you get rid of her and go back to Maria, what are the processes to ensure that, when you go to dinner, it is Maria who is having dinner, Maria Henrique who is having dinner and not Luiza de Jesus?


MH - I tell you it's not easy. I think I use it, some pragmatism and an awareness of "now it's over, I got in here, but now, I need to come back to me, so that, at any moment, I can snap my fingers and get there".


Maria Henrique em Luiza de Jesus a Assassinna da Roda ©Filipe Ferreira

Maria Henrique in Luiza de Jesus - the Assassin of the Wheel  © Filipe Ferreira


Luíza de Jesus, who was friendly with a nanny at the institution, collected children, to receive the money, using different names, and at the request of families in the region, as she stated. None of these requests were confirmed by the investigation.
Then, well, then he would kill them cruelly and bury them in a field still close to the institution or dismember them after they were dead to keep them in jars and pots buried in the floor of his dwelling, and go on with his life.
Luiza de Jesus, she never gave any explanation, whatever, absurd or irrational, any explanation for her actions. Never, none.


B.C - A monologue turns out to be also an introspective exercise, the actress ends up, after all, talking about herself to herself. At some point does the actress feel, albeit a streak, any compassion for such a character? Something similar to what a mother feels for her child, even though she is the most cruel of criminals?


MH - Yes, yes ... maybe my answer may be strange, but yes. I think that…


B.C - maybe strange is my question ...


MH -… no, no, no. This question is very pertinent, because it will probably be difficult to imagine how I can empathize ... empathize with this woman. I think that a character only gains three dimensions, when we can imagine that she could be a human being. A human being has several layers, any human being, perhaps in extreme situations of survival, he may need - and it will never, never be my intention to be able to justify a Luiza de Jesus. Even the most hideous murderers may have liked someone and someone will like them and even the purest princess will have her thoughts and have done something difficult… I tried to work Luiza, either for me or to let the viewer get out of there thinking, about how you feel about this Luiza. If you understand her, you would do the same thing if you were in her place to survive the misery she lived in, if you ended up being led to that after a past of abuse, if - never justifying, but - What if? What if? And my job is to make the audience think “What if?”. In that sense, yes, it is true that I managed and I can have moments when I have some empathy, for this woman and it is from there that she comes to exist.


B.C - I would venture to say that without that I would not be able to represent you in their entirety, would I? Because she herself didn't hate herself, did she?


MH - Exactly. That's right, people always have their reasons, reasons may be wrong, but they have them.


B.C - You think you have achieved this, this distance, your effort, to avoid value judgments, by making value judgments appear, both in relation to the criminal and in relation to the application of the law, to the judges, to the way in which punishment was chosen hers, the punishment; who was tortured, mutilated, burned, in short, they made him thirty by one line, do you think he managed to distance himself enough to not let his opinion show in relation to what happened?


MH - I think so. I honestly think so, because there are moments in the play, which I know ... that already bothered me and I got used to them, but that I know they are capable of bothering, in which she does some things that are disturbing.


B.C - It is clear that these value judgments, the creative leaves them to the public, as already mentioned. Whoever sees it, will make their judgments of value and as much as we try to distance ourselves, we are not able to command that. Do you fear that in your effort, you have at some point produced an ambiguous image? Or did you really wish that image was ambiguous?


It is a piece that makes us question the limits of justice, think about Humanist values; it causes us the discomfort of facing human misery at its extreme limit, confronted with our moral and ethical principles, with our convictions about guilt and punishment, victim and executioner. How far can punishment go?


Luiza de Jesus - A Assassina da Roda Artes & contextos DSCF3703 Luiza facebook©Filipe Ferreira

Maria Henrique in Luiza de Jesus - the Assassin of the Wheel  © Filipe Ferreira



MH - I would like the public to leave without really knowing what to think of this woman.


Maria Henrique made her first staging with the play Paper Hearts


B.C - What is it like to address yourself?


Tell me it is a very big discipline exercise, with a very big focus. Recalls a moment, in a show, a comedy by Rosa Lobato de Faria, with Heitor Lourenço, when the show ended and she, the director, sat down taking notes for herself, the actress and only realized the “strangeness” ”When Hector burst out laughing,“ complaining ”that he hadn't received her notes from the director. But Maria director, she really needed to make Maria actress notice, what she might have done less well and how to improve it for the next rehearsal.

When she is alone on the scene, it is the same thing - she says - the show ends, she sits looking at the text, takes some notes, keeps thinking and either decides at the moment or goes home thinking. As soon as the rehearsal as an actress ends, it is the director's turn to take stock.


Maria Henrique

Maria Henrique


B.C - It is not easy to manage this double personality almost in the mirror ...


MH - It is not. That's why I say that it takes a lot of discipline.


B.C - Going back to this piece, when did you stop being afraid of it? If you ever stopped being afraid of her?


MH - From Luiza?


B.C - The play, the paper, its delivery, its assumption, the being possessed by Luiza de Jesus?


MH –I think there is always an “What if?”. I am so picky with myself, so picky with myself, that I constantly think “what if I could get better anywhere?” That is why no creative process is ever completely closed. It may be on the right track, well directed.


B.C - You haven't been shocked by the audience yet, you haven't done the shock test yet, there were only a few people who had the privilege of watching the play, what do you think Luiza de Jesus may have changed in Maria Henrique?


MH - I think I grew a lot, I matured even more in this search process, of searching, because he is such an intense character, a text so intense, that I think I grew much faster than these months of work. Regarding the audience, I feel that when the show is over, there will be a great silence. It smells like there will be a little punch in the stomach, that people will not know very well if they will applaud, if they will not applaud…


B.C - for my part I can confirm this.


MH - Okay, exactly, but I think that if that happens, it could be a good sign. It is not normal for me as an actress to have a great silence when the show is over.


B.C - ... sorry to interrupt you, but when I said that I confirm for myself, I was referring to the punch in the stomach and not the silence.


MH - Yeah, a punch in the stomach because it really is very intense, but I feel that this punch in the stomach can make people stay there for a few seconds without knowing how to react.


B.C - Does it give you a feeling of ... although the expression is not the most correct, but taking into account the way you see this particular role, a kind of duty fulfilled? He showed something he thought it was important to show, a small item in our history, which was almost hidden, and that Maria brought to light ... first Ruth and then Maria reinforced her, amplified that effect, she feels that she has done a good job with this "revelation"?


MH - Honestly, yes. Firstly, I have always done my best and will continue to do so, secondly, I think I have a function of passing on a message so that we do not forget things, thirdly, I will want to walk around the country and islands with this show, take this show to more people. Also, to alert mentalities, to give a voice, in another way other than the book and it is very pertinent to read the book, because it is wonderful to give a voice through the art of theater, from dramatic art to a true, Portuguese character and about our History so troubled this eighteenth century, which was and still influences us much more than what we think.


B.C - It is in my opinion a remarkable job to make art, without necessarily having to invent anything new, simply grab something that exists and interpret it with a new message and that is what Maria achieves in this work and very well, I think and I congratulate you for that, because in fact it is an excellent job.

Thank you very much, Maria.


MH - Thank you very much for your kindness, congratulations on your delivery to Arte, congratulations on your work, because they really are unique and I wish there were many more people like that. Thank you very much.


B.C - Thank you, good night.


Luiza de Jesus - The Killer of the Wheel,  opens today, April 29, 2021, at the Teatro da Trindade - INATEL

By Rute Carvalho Serra, with interpretation and staging by Maria Henrique


(1) Source:

You may be interested in: The Father - By Florian Zeller


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