Out of the Wings

You are here:

Escuadra hacia la muerte (1953), Alfonso Sastre Salvador

English title: Condemned Squad
Date written: 1953
First production date: March 1953
Keywords: morality > honour, morality > crime, violence, violence > social, violence > murder, violence > suicide, violence > crime, identity > hierarchy, history, love > friendship, ideology > honour, ideology > morality, power > war, power > intimidation, power > use and abuse
Genre and type: tragedy

During a fictional Third World War, five soldiers and their tyrannical colonel wait for the enemy. They wait for death. This is a condemned squad, in which each man must wrestle with his own demons. But when the soldiers murder their colonel, the demons multiply, as the death of their tyrant only leads to inner turmoil, rather than peace.


After committing various crimes, six men are brought together in a forest. A Third Wold War has broken out, and no one knows when the enemy will advance. As punishment the soldiers have been assigned to the front line. They must remain in a forest lodge from December until February, watching for the enemy so that they can relay an early warning back to the main battalion. The soldiers – Luis, Adolfo, Javier, Andrés and Pedro – all suffer under the harsh regime imposed by tyrannical Colonel Goban. Goban beats his men and refuses to let them relax for a minute.

As the weeks go by, the soldiers under the Colonel’s command get to know each other. Young Luis tells his colleagues that he was punished for refusing to participate in a firing squad. Andrés used to be a terrible drunk, and killed a sergeant while intoxicated. Pedro mistreated some prisoners of war, while Adolfo was caught stealing and selling the rations of fellow soldiers. Colonel Goban’s crime only serves to make him a more fearful figure. He killed a recruit in training after losing his temper. When he nearly beats Andrés to death in a fit of anger, the men realise just how dangerous he can be. Only Javier, the quiet university professor, keeps his crime to himself. He believes that he will not leave the forest alive, and secretly writes down his crime in a letter. Javier confesses that he was a coward who tried to avoid the draft. When he did enlist, he tried to desert. Now, Javier sees his assignment to the squad as being a chance for him to make amends for his cowardice and take part in the war.

One night, Javier, Adolfo, Andrés and Pedro are alone together inside the lodge. The Colonel and Luis are out on guard duty. It is Christmas Eve. Two of the more impulsive men, Adolfo and Andrés, decide to get drunk. Javier and Pedro finally join them, and the men toast glass after glass of cognac to the festive season. Eventually, the Colonel returns. He is outraged to see his soldiers so drunk. They – and Adolfo in particular – are tired of his oppressive regime. They refuse to stop drinking and a brutal fight ensues. The men corner the Colonel. He is beaten, stabbed and eventually dies. No one knows who dealt the fatal blow, but now their superior is dead, the men will have to decide what to do next.

Each man has a different reaction to the killing of their tyrant. Adolfo wants them to lie to the authorities about what happened to the Colonel. Pedro, however, wants to confess. He wants to confront his fate and bravely face the firing squad. Adolfo is horrified: if Pedro confesses then they will all be executed. Unwilling to face such a death, Adolfo flees and heads towards the mountains. Andrés, who never really recovered from the Colonel’s brutal beating, wants to surrender to the enemy, hoping to be able to rest in a prisoner of war camp. It is doubtful, however, that Adolfo will survive as a fugitive, or that Andrés’ prison experience will be as restful as he believes.

During the arguments over what to do about the Colonel’s murder, Javier has kept his silence. He reveals to Pedro that he has been thinking deeply about what happened. Javier now believes that the military authorities deliberately gave the men a harsh superior. In Javier’s mind, the authorities wanted them to kill the Colonel, since it has now led to an even more severe punishment, as each man contemplates the terrible consequences of the murder. Having come to the conclusion that their torment will never end, Javier walks into the forest and hangs himself. Now, only Peter and Luis remain. Peter still wants to face the full consequences of what he has done. He is tired of life. In fact, he pities Luis, who is destined to live, since he had no part in the murder. The two remaining soldiers share a final night’s watch together. They know that one of the is destined to live, the other to die. We are left wondering, however, which one of the men is the more fortunate.

Critical response

Escuadra hacia la muerte (Condemned Squad) is one of Sastre’s most admired plays. Leonard Pronko, who has translated the play into English, views the tyrannical Corporal Goban as a ‘god-image’, with the soldiers under him being ‘representative of man striving to free himself from God, only to find that the death of God does not solve any problems’ (Pronko 1960: 114).

The play was made into a film for TVE (Televisión Española) in 2008, directed by Raúl Hernández Garrido.

  • Pronko, Leonard C. 1960. ‘The Revolutionary Theatre of Alfonso Sastre’, Tulane Drama Review, 5.2, 111-20

  • Sastre, Alfonso. 1975. Escuadra hacia la muerte. La mordanza, ed. Farris Anderson. Madrid, Clásicos Castalia

  • Sastre, Alfonso. 2006. ‘Escuadra hacia la muerte’. In Teatro escogido, vol. I, pp. 88-169. Madrid, Asociación de Autores de Teatro

  • Sastre, Alfonso. 2010. Uranio 235. Escuadra hacia la muerte. La mordanza. Tres Cantos, Madrid, Akai

Useful readings and websites
  • Pronko, Leonard C. 1960. ‘The Revolutionary Theatre of Alfonso Sastre’, Tulane Drama Review, 5.2, 111-20

  • Thatcher Gies, David. 1975. ‘David and Goliath: The Resolution of Tyranny and Oppression in Two Plays by Alfonso Sastre’, Modern Language Studies, 5.2, 94-100

Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 6 June 2011.

Tag this play

You must be logged in to add tags. Please log in or sign up for a free account.

Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment. Please log in or sign up for a free account.

  • King's College London Logo
  • Queen's University Belfast Logo
  • University of Oxford Logo
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council Logo