Out of the Wings

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Babilonia (c.1925), Armando Discépolo

English title: Babylon
Notable variations on Spanish title: Babilonia: una hora entre los criados
Date written: c. 1925
First production date: 1925
Keywords: morality > crime, violence > social, identity > class/social standing, identity > hierarchy, identity > ethnicity, identity > gender, power > inter-personal/game play, history > modernity, society > poverty
Genre and type: grotesco criollo

In this Argentine classic of the twentieth century, the dream of ‘making it’ in the Americas contrasts with the reality of Buenos Aires in the 1920s as a handful of immigrant workers are forced together in the stifling basement kitchen of a wealthy household.  On this night the servants reveal their true selves and show that morality and human solidarity are luxuries they cannot afford, as they struggle to survive in a society transformed by immigration which is far from harmonious.


Thousands of immigrants have uprooted themselves from Europe hoping to make a better life in Argentina.  Their fantasy of what life will be like is in stark contrast with the life they encounter in reality.  They find themselves forced to live in claustrophobic proximity with others and to work exhausting hours for little reward. They are isolated by mutual incomprehension in the Babylon of different languages which is Buenos Aires in the 1920s.

In this play a ‘nouveau riche’ family are celebrating their daughter’s engagement.   The pompous festivities take place upstairs, while downstairs we encounter the subterranean world of the household’s servants.  As they work to make a success of the evening, preparing food and drink for the guests, each of the servants reveals their virtues and their sorrows. The servants have come to work and make an honest living, but circumstances do not always afford the luxury of morality or kind human relationships in their struggle to survive.

José, a Galician waiter, is losing his sight and is facing dismissal because of it.  He is threatened by Eustaquio, a younger Argentine waiter, who José fears will replace him.  José plans to steal the necklace given as an engagement gift to Emma (the wealthy family’s daughter) and hide it in Eustaquio’s bag so that he will be accused of theft and will no longer be a threat to José’s position as head waiter.  However, his plan backfires, as Eustaquio realises what José has done and plants the necklace instead on Piccione, the chef.  Piccione volunteers himself to be searched by the pretty maid from Madrid, Isabel, and, to his surprise, she discovers that he has the necklace.  But the trail soon leads back to José.

In a tragic finale, the servants turn on José and begin to beat him up, then clamour to report him to the lady of the house.  At this moment all the servants form a chorus, united in their fervent condemnation of José.  All except for Alcibiades, another Galician servant, who is full of compassion and calls them cowards for their readiness to sacrifice José.

  • Discépolo, Armando. 2004. Babilonia: Una hora entre los criados. Buenos Aires, Mate

Entry written by Gwendolen Mackeith. Last updated on 23 January 2012.

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