Álvaro Menén Desleal was born in El Salvador in 1931 and died on 6 April 2000. As well as a dramatist, he is known as a poet, and also as a writer of fantastic fiction. He worked as a journalist, writing and editing for the literary supplement of El Diario de Hoy in El Salvador, as well as for journals and newspapers in Mexico during the 1950s and 1960s. He was responsible for founding the first TV news programme of Central America which ran between 1956 and 1960.
Menén Desleal was a member of the literary group ‘la generación comprometida’, a Salvadorean circle of writers active in the 1950s which included the poet Roque Dalton, and was heavily influenced by the existentialist doctrine of Jean-Paul Sartre.
Throughout many stages of his life, Menén Desleal lived in exile outside of El Salvador - in Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica and Europe and he taught widely at various international universities.
His plays have been translated into French, English and German.
The theatre of Álvaro Menén Desleal touches on the universal themes of love, death, sex, freedom, violence and repression – and God. All of these themes are dramatised by him with heavy irony and an all-pervasive cynicism.
Through his drama, Menén Desleal explores the failure of communication between people and in society. He evokes the rhetoric of established doctrines: history, religion and revolution, undermining them all as reliable narratives for understanding reality. His theatre questions in such a way as to develop the existentialist philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre, embraced by the ‘generación comprometida’ which Menen Desleal was part of in the 1950s.
Black humour and the absurd are integral to the style of Álvaro Menén Desleal’s drama. Language is devalued and characters engage in ridiculous discussions in which they repeat themselves, debate fiercely about pointless matters, make historical references with total disregard for context and pseudo-philosophise about religion, politics and the state of man. Menén Desleal’s theatrical impulse is to disrupt and to provoke, to take his drama to its most far-fetched conclusion.
Menén Desleal, Álvaro. 1966. El circo y otras piezas falsas (The Circus and Other False Plays) (in Spanish)
Menén Desleal, Álvaro. 2000. La bicicleta al pie de la muralla (The Bicycle at the Foot of the Wall) (in Spanish)
Schanzer, George. O. 1974. ‘El teatro hispanoamericano de post mortem,’ Latin American Theatre Review, 7.2, 5-16 (in Spanish)
Entry written by Gwendolen Mackeith. Last updated on 5 October 2010.