Out of the Wings

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Eterno retorno (1998), Luis Miguel González Cruz

English title: Eternal Return
Date written: 1998
First production date: 2003
Keywords: family, family > brothers/sisters, family > parents and children, love, morality > crime, morality > punishment, power > use and abuse, society > poverty, violence > cruelty, violence > social, violence > revenge
Genre and type: tragedy, magic realism

A man comes home after months of wandering. His return continues a seemingly eternal chain of death, alienation and family tragedy.


In a grimy town square, a man hangs from the gallows. He has been there for three months. The townspeople have been waiting for the return of Alnado, one of the dead man’s sons. Alnado left after asking his father for his share of the family inheritance. While Alnado was away, his brother Máncer stayed behind to work on their father’s pig farm. Their father was hanged for dishonestly selling underweight pigs. Máncer, however, has made the farm successful. Máncer is in the process of taking his father’s body down from the gallows when Alnado returns. Having spent his inheritance and with nothing left, Alnado walks into town like a mysterious and troubled prodigal son. The years he has spent wandering are etched on his face.

Máncer greets his brother coldly after so many months apart. They bury their father and kill a fattened pig to eat. Starved beggars and prostitutes join the feast in the town square. Here, Alnado is reunited with people he used to know, including the old man who tends Máncer’s pigs and Maria, his father’s former servant. Maria has blossomed since Alnado left. She is now a beautiful young woman with an ambitious boyfriend, Abel. Like many of the townspeople, Abel and Maria are very poor. But they have plans to better themselves. They contemplate stealing one of Máncer’s pigs to sell it at market. Alnado warns them against such a foolhardy act, fearful of the consequences were they to steal from his brother’s farm.

Alnado’s warning is ignored. Abel steals a pig, is caught by Máncer and is immediately hanged for his crime. Maria begs for mercy, revealing that she is pregnant with Abel’s child. Her revelation shocks Alnado, who quietly walks away in the midst of the commotion.

Ten years pass. Alnado returns once again. He does not visit his brother, however, preferring to stay with the old man who tends Máncer’s pigs. One of the pigs has escaped, and so Alnado goes to look for it. As he does so, he comes across a little boy, Cain. He discovers that Cain is Maria’s son. Cain is a feisty child, who talks about his mother being shut up in a tower by a dragon. The old man informs Alnado that, after Abel’s execution, Maria was punished and shut away in Máncer’s large house. Máncer has tolerated Cain’s presence, but makes no secret of his hatred for the boy. For his part, Cain knows that Máncer killed his father. He has little idea why, however, believing his father to have been a brave and honourable man.

Máncer and a gang of his men go looking for Cain. This time, the old man worries that Máncer will kill the boy. Alnado hides Cain in the old man’s pigsty. He lies to Máncer, pretending to know nothing about the boy. Later, however, Maria arrives at the pigsty. She is relieved to find her son and surprised to see Alnado. More pressingly, however, Maria is scared. She tells Alnado that Máncer knows that he lied about Cain and that he is coming to find them. Máncer killed Abel for trying to steal a pig. Then he imprisoned Maria for years. And so, knowing just how vengeful his brother can be, Alnado flees with Maria and Cain – just before Máncer arrives at the pigsty and burns it to the ground in anger.

The fleeing party spend days evading Máncer and his men. From time to time, they hear the ominous sound of a hunting horn. In a brief moment of calm, Maria asks Alnado why he has helped them. Alnado admits that he does not know, seemingly as much an enigma to himself as he is to other people. Maria tells Alnado that she could happily love him. Yet there is no time for them to become closer, as they hear the hunting horns and must flee once again.

After a while, Cain gets tired of running. Despite being only 10 years old, he stands up to Alnado, insisting that his mother is too exhausted to keep wandering the countryside. Maria, however, urges them to keep going. She knows just how violent Máncer can be. Cleverly, she and Alnado give Cain a new name – Abel. They tell him the story of Cain and Abel, emphasising the fact that it was Abel who was the better of the brothers. At this, Abel/Cain stops objecting and decides to grow into his new name. The trio have arrived at a new shelter. Abel/Cain, feeling a new sense of responsibility, keeps watch outside for any sign of Máncer. Inside, Alnado and Maria declare their love for one another.

The old man from the pigsty catches up with the fugitives. He tells them that Máncer is close behind them. Alnado goes to the port to see if they can hire a boat to flee abroad. At the port, however, Alnado comes face to face with Máncer. The brothers fight, and eventually Alnado kills Máncer. Now, he and Maria can live in peace. But they do not rejoice in Máncer’s death. Rather, they give him a decent burial. Standing over Máncer’s grave, the old man thanks the vengeful pursuer for reminding everyone else of their dignity and humanity. Had Máncer not been so inhumane, Alnado may never have found the strength to fight for Maria and her son.

The end of the play takes place years later. Maria’s son has become a young man. His name changes from Abel back to Cain as he asks Alnado – now very old – for his inheritance. In the end, Cain goes off into mountains.


Alnado’s return, penniless, to his hometown has echoes of the biblical parable of the prodigal son.

Abel and Maria have a son called Cain. In the course of the play, Alnado and Maria tell Cain the biblical story of Cain and Abel.

In scene 13 we hear the tale of Saint George and the Dragon.

Critical response

The play won the Lope de Vega Prize in 1999.


Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 30 November 2011.

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