Out of the Wings

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La Fundación (1972-1973), Antonio Buero Vallejo

English title: The Foundation
Notable variations on Spanish title: The Foundation: Fable in Two Parts
Date written: from 1972 to 1973
First publication date: 1964
First production date: 15 January 1974
Keywords: morality > crime, morality > punishment, morality > justice-revenge, violence > social, violence > torture, violence > murder, violence > suicide, ideology > politics, power > use and abuse, love > friendship
Genre and type: tragedy

A comfortable room, with a television, bar, tables, chairs and a welcoming bed. Through the window, the most spectacular view imaginable. This is The Foundation, a research institution where six men – Tomás, Asel, Lino, Tulio, Max and the sick Man – live and work. Or so it seems. But does The Foundation really exist? Or is it a delusion, real only in Tomás’s head? If so, just where are these men?


La Fundación (The Foundation) is set entirely in one room. This room starts off being nicely furnished, with a bed, bar, and a comfortable seating area. A huge window looks out onto a picturesque landscape. Sunlight streams into the room, and the mellifluous tones of the Pastoral Movementfrom Rossini’s William Tell Overture can be heard. As the play begins a sick Man lies in the bed. He is practically invisible underneath the covers with his back to the audience. The other man in the room, Tomás, sweeps the floor as he listens to the music. For Tomás, life is sweet. His writing career is being funded by the benevolence of The Foundation. Here, he lives and works, as does his fiancée Berta. Even though she lives in another part of The Foundation, she manages to sneak into the room and surprise Tomás while he sweeps. Surprisingly, given its generosity towards her, Berta is highly critical of The Foundation. She criticises its shortcomings, such as the bad smell and the overcrowding. Tomás, however, is more concerned that his colleagues have never met Berta: they are beginning to suspect that she does not exist. Teasingly, as she departs, Berta promises to return later to prove to Tomás’s colleagues that she is, in fact, real.

After Berta leaves, Asel, Max, Tulio and Lino enter the room. These are Tomás’s colleagues, who also share his living space. Their arrival is promptly followed by a brief visit by the immaculately dressed Supervisor and his Assistant. The Supervisor politely inquires into the health of the Man. Asel, who Tomás believes to be a doctor, explains that the Man is still ill but will no doubt recover soon. Once the Supervisor and his Assistant leave, the men settle down for the afternoon. The atmosphere is mostly convivial, but there are notes of discord, as Tulio seems intent on upsetting Tomás by rudely refusing his offer of drinks and cigarettes. Finally, lunch is served. The Supervisor returns, ushering waiters into the room with a trolley laden with sumptuous food. Strangely, however, as Tomás deliberates over what to eat, the waiters snigger behind his back.

In scene 2 early evening has descended. All the men are in the room. Tulio sits apart, while Tomás involves the others in looking through a book of paintings. Tomás particularly enjoys the Turner landscapes, not least because they remind him of the beautiful view beyond the room’s huge window. After a while, he is distracted by the disappearance of his box of tobacco. It was definitely in his pocket, but it is not there now. Perhaps, suggests Max, it was only a holograph of a box, referring to Tulio’s research work on three-dimensional holographic images. While Tomás wonders where the box might have gone, he also notices that his surroundings have changed subtly and he begins to suspect that his colleagues are playing tricks on him – replacing, for example, the nice new broom he was using earlier with an old tattered one. Asel alerts Tomás to something else perturbing: the sun over the landscape beyond the window has not moved since dawn, even though it is now evening. Such mysteries confuse Tomás, but he does not have the chance to reflect on them for long. Instead, he begins to hear the Man crying out, pleading for food and water. None of the other men appears to heed his cries. This enrages Tomás, who turns on his colleagues, disgusted at their indifference. Eventually his very vocal outrage attracts the attention of the Supervisor and his Assistant. They enter room, and the Supervisor pulls back the bedclothes, only to discover that the Man has been dead for days. Tomás is bemused, since he has talked to the Man often. As the Supervisor slams the door shut on the men – a door that is no longer wooden but made of cold metal – Tomás asks what is happening. Calmly, Asel assures the young man that he already knows: he will remember soon.

Three days later, the men are confined to the room while an investigation into the Man’s death is carried out. The room is less comfortable than it was before, something which continues to worry Tomás. Asel is more concerned as to why they have not been sent down to the punishment cells for concealing the dead Man’s corpse. Instead, only Tulio is summoned from the room. Lino grimly suspects that Tulio has been selected for execution. This is refuted by Tomás – why would The Foundation do such a thing? Lino is not convinced by The Foundation’s beneficence, however. Giving up, Tomás gets miserably into bed. As he lies there, Rossini’s Pastoral is heard once again. At the same time, the light of dawn returns, shining down on the beautiful countryside beyond the window. Berta appears in the room, even though the door is locked. Perhaps all is not lost! Perhaps Berta can explain what is happening in The Foundation. Instead, Berta insists that Tomás already knows what is going on. The two fall passionately into bed, only to disturb the others. But before Asel, Max or Lino can see Berta, she hides in the bathroom which lies behind a curtain in the room. Mysteriously, however, Berta is nowhere to be seen when Tomás tries to find her. In fact, when Asel questions him, Tomás admits that he made up the visit by Berta. And, when Asel pushes him further, Tomás finally acknowledges part of the reality of his situation. He is not in The Foundation. He is in a cell: they are all prisoners.

As the final scene of the play begins, the room almost completely resembles the prison cell that it is in reality. The spectacular view from the window has disappeared behind a screen, and most of the former comforts of The Foundation have vanished. Dressed in military uniform, the Assistant summons Max to the Visitors’ Room, leaving Tomás, Asel and Lino alone in the cell. As they talk, Tomás learns that Asel is not in fact a doctor, but an engineer. His surprise at this fact greatly irritates Lino, who insists that Tomás already knew what Asel’s real job was. In fact, Lino is so exasperated that he forces Tomás into remembering the truth about his imprisonment. After being arrested for distributing leaflets, Tomás recalls how he was tortured and gave away vital information that led to the arrest of Asel and the others. He then tried to throw himself over prison railings, but Asel stopped him. It was then that The Foundation was born. Berta’s visits, the Man’s voice, the pleasant room and spectacular view – none of this ever existed anywhere other than in his mind. With the comforts of The Foundation crumbling around him, Tomás is forced to admit to himself that he is responsible for the fact that they have all been sentenced to death. Feeling physically sick with shame, he rushes to the bathroom, only for the curtain to raise up into the ceiling and expose him seated on a dirty latrine. With this, the last vestiges of Tomás’s benevolent Foundation disappear, and Asel pronounces him cured.

More revelations follow that of Tomás’s guilt and betrayal. Asel admits that he deliberately concealed the Man’s corpse so that they could be transferred to the punishment cells below. His reasons, however, were honourable. He reveals to Lino and Tomás that, if they had been put into cell 14 or 15, escape might have been possible through a tunnel leading to a sewer. Asel now suspects that Lino told the prison authorities of the plan, hence the fact that they have not been sent to the punishment cells. Lino vehemently denies the accusation, and suspicion falls on the absent Max. Sadly, if Max has informed the prison authorities about the escape plan, it is unlikely that Asel will ever see the punishment cells before he is executed. There is still hope that Tomás and Lino might have a chance to escape, however. For a moment, Tomás wavers, scared of the risk involved. He contemplates the nature of freedom, wondering whether the world outside the prison cell might simply be yet another prison masquerading as a foundation. If so, there would be no point escaping from one prison into another. While Asel agrees that foundations – prisons in disguise – are everywhere, he insists that it is imperative that Tomás always strive to escape from one another, aspiring always to a brighter future.

Eventually, Max returns to the room. Lino accuses him of being a traitor, and in terror Max rushes to the door screaming to be let out. The Supervisor and his Assistant enter, but rather than taking Max away, they summon Asel. As he leaves, the inmates of the entire prison can be heard banging on their doors, screaming ‘Murderers!’. Fearing he might be tortured and thus betray other men, Asel hurls himself over the prison railing. Lino takes advantage of the confusion to exact revenge on Max, throwing him over the railings to his death. After the tumult has died down, Lino and Tomás are forced back into the cell. Tomás pretends that he is still delusional, upbraiding the Supervisor for The Foundation’s poor hospitality. In this way he convinces the Supervisor that neither he nor Lino had any call to murder Max. Tomás and Lino will almost certainly now be executed. Like a new man, Tomás resolves to face his death bravely. After a while, they are both summoned from the room. Where they end up remains a mystery.

As the play ends, Rossini’s Pastoral music is heard once more. The curtain descends to conceal the bathroom, and all room’s comforts return. As the music gets louder, rainbow-hued sunlight streams into the room. The spectacular view of the countryside is visible once again. The Supervisor appears in the doorway, dressed in his tailored suit. Smiling, he welcomes new guests to The Foundation.


In Part One scene 2 Tomás is looking at a book of paintings by various painters. He argues with Tulio about who painted a particular work, the seventeenth-century painting entitled The Art of Painting by the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer (1632-75). Tomás believes mistakenly that the painting is by Gerard Ter Borch (1617-81). In his introduction to the play, Francisco Javier Díez de Revenga points out that it is unsurprising that paintings form a part of Tomás’s hallucinatory world (Buero Vallejo 1989: 17). He also calls attention to the fact that the view of the countryside seen through the room’s large window resembles the painting style of the British artist J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851) (Buero Vallejo 1989: 19; see also Hasley 1985: 253).

In Part Two scene 1 Asel talks about the vast number of people who have been executed throughout history for various reasons. He makes reference to the god Moloch. This deity is associated with sacrifice, frequently through the execution of an individual or individuals.

  • Buero Vallejo, Antonio. 1989. La Fundación, ed. Francisco Javier Díez de Revenga. Madrid, Espasa Calpe (in Spanish)

  • Hasley, Martha. 1985. ‘Landscapes of the Imagination: Images of Hope in the Theater of Buero Vallejo’, Hispania, 68.2, 252-9

Critical response

Autobiographical elements / Political context

La Fundación (The Foundation) is one of Buero Vallejo’s most popular plays. It has been translated into a number of languages and performed in countries such as Germany, Sweden and the United States. The play is set in ‘an unknown country’, which no doubt contributes to its international popularity as a work with something to say about the human condition in general. Nevertheless, many critics note the significance of the Spanish context in which La Fundación (The Foundation) was written. Buero himself was condemned to death for his participation in the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War (1936-9). The death sentence was commuted, but he spent nearly seven years in prison. Therefore, although the play is not autobiographical, it does contain elements of Buero’s prison experience, such as the overcrowding in cells (Monleón 1974: 6) and conversations about art and about informers and torture (de Paco 2001: 157). Unlike Tomás, Max and Asel, however, the playwright makes clear that he never informed on anyone else (cited in González-Cobos Dávila 1979: 174). Despite not being specifically set in Spain, Díez de Revenga points out that the timing of the play’s premiere in January 1974 was significant in that it took place very shortly after the assassination of Admiral Carrero Blanco (20 December 1973), the Prime Minister of Spain and close ally of Franco, murdered by the Basque separatist group ETA (Buero Vallejo 1989: 13).

Responses to the wider significance of the play

Many academic studies carried out on La Fundación (The Foundation) show how the play transcends its socio-political context. Critics have engaged with its central notion, namely that ‘Foundations’, or prisons, are all around us; human beings are limited by prison bars that may not be physically present, but are no less real for all that (Feijoo 1982: 444). The implications of this idea have engendered debate, as some see it as hopeful, others as tragic. For Robert Sheehan, the play is hopeful in its call for us to constantly strive for better. ‘The world is a series of prisons’, he writes, ‘and our life a series of escapes or actions to escape from each of them, ever seeking more perfect freedom. Life, then, is a constant "becoming" rather than achieving’ (1978: 69). Others argue that the play ends darkly. Eric Pennington, for example, considers La Fundación (The Foundation) as Buero’s ‘darkest’ play: while in other works hope is to be found ‘subtly’, here, he argues, it is ‘non-existent and foundationless’ (2006: 116).

Responses to the ‘immersion effect’

La Fundación (The Foundation) is marked by the extensive use by Buero of his characteristic ‘immersion effect’. For the entire duration of the play, spectators share Tomás’s point of view. That we experience exactly what Tomás does means it is possible to argue that La Fundación (The Foundation) takes place entirely inside the protagonist’s mind (Feijoo 1982: 442).

Similarities with other works.

The way in which La Fundación (The Foundation) engages with philosophical notions of freedom and truth, reality and fiction, has led to comparisons with La vida es sueño (Life’s a Dream), by the seventeenth-century Spanish playwright, Pedro Calderón de la Barca (see, in particular, Dixon 1999). In addition, Tomás’s delusions have been compared with those experienced by Don Quijote in Don Quijote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (see for example Caro Dugo 1996 and Doménech 1993: 296-7).

  • Buero Vallejo, Antonio. 1989. La Fundación, ed. Francisco Javier Díez de Revenga. Madrid, Espasa Calpe (in Spanish)

  • Caro Dugo, Carmen. 1996. ‘Locura quijotesca en algunas obras de Buero Vallejo’. In El teatro de Buero Vallejo: homenaje del hispanismo británico e irlandés, eds. Victor Dixon and David Johnston, pp. 13-29. Liverpool, Liverpool University Press (in Spanish)

  • Dixon, Victor. 1999. ‘La Fundación de Buero Vallejo, una re-creación de La vida es sueño. In Entre Actos: Diálogos sobre teatro español entre siglos, eds. Martha T. Halsey and Phyllis Zatlin, pp. 195-204. University Park, Pennsylvania, Estreno (in Spanish)

  • Doménech, Ricardo. 1993. El teatro de Buero Vallejo, 2nd edn. Madrid, Gredos (in Spanish)

  • Feijoo, Luis Iglesias. 1982. La trayectoria dramática de Antonio Buero Vallejo, Santiago de Compostela, Universidad de Santiago de Compostela

  • González-Cobos Dávila, Carmen. 1979. Antonio Buero Vallejo: el hombre y su obra. Salamanca, Universidad de Salamanca (in Spanish)

  • Monleón, José. 1974. ‘Buero: de la repugnante y necesaria violencia a la repugnante e inútil crueldad’, Primer Acto, 167, 4-13 (in Spanish)

  • Paco, Mariano de. 2001. ‘Buero será su obra …’. In Antonio Buero Vallejo: dramaturgo universal, eds. Mariano de Paco and Francisco Javier Díez de Revenga, pp. 149-64. Murcia, Cajamurcia (in Spanish)

  • Pennington, Eric. 2006. ‘Deconstructing the Soft Bottoms of Buero Vallejo’s La Fundación’, Revista Hispánica Moderna, 59, 97-118

  • Sheehan, Robert Louis. 1978. ‘La Fundación: Idearium for the New Spain’, Modern Language Studies, 8.2, 65-71

Further information

A version of the play was produced for television in 1977, directed by José Osuna.

  • Buero Vallejo, Antonio. 1974. ‘La Fundación’, Primer Acto, 167, 18-56

  • Buero Vallejo, Antonio. 1975. ‘La Fundación’. In Teatro español 1973-1974, ed. Francisco Javier Díez de Revenga. Madrid, Espasa Calpe

  • Buero Vallejo, Antonio. 1986. La Fundación. El concierto de San Ovidio. Madrid, Colección Austral

  • Buero Vallejo, Antonio. 1989. La Fundación, ed. Francisco Javier Díez de Revenga. Madrid, Espasa Calpe

  • Buero Vallejo, Antonio. 1991. ‘La Fundación’. In Teatro Español Contemporáneo. Antología. Mexico and Madrid, Centro de Documentación Teatral

Information about the editions

Parts of the script are sometimes omitted during performances to make them shorter. This was, for example, the case during the play’s initial run which began in 1974. In his 1989 edition, Francisco Javier Díez de Revenga places the section of the script that was omitted in square brackets.

Useful readings and websites
  • Dixon, Victor. 1999. ‘La Fundación de Buero Vallejo, una re-creación de La vida es sueño. In Entre Actos: Diálogos sobre teatro español entre siglos, eds. Martha T. Halsey and Phyllis Zatlin, pp. 195-204. University Park, Pennsylvania, Estreno (in Spanish)

  • Hasley, Martha T. 1987. ‘Realty, Illusion and Alienation: Buero Vallejo’s La Fundación’, Hispanófila, 90, 47-62

  • McMullan, Terence. 1996. ‘La tendencia lúdica en La Fundación’. In El teatro de Buero Vallejo: homenaje del hispanismo británico e irlandés, eds. Victor Dixon and David Johnston, pp. 159-74. Liverpool, Liverpool University Press (in Spanish)

  • Paco, Mariano de. 1975. ‘La Fundación en el teatro de Antonio Buero Vallejo’, La Estafeta Literaria, 560 (in Spanish)

  • Pennington, Eric. 2006. ‘Deconstructing the Soft Bottoms of Buero Vallejo’s La Fundación’, Revista Hispánica Moderna, 59, 97-118

  • Sheehan, Robert Louis. 1978. ‘La Fundación: Idearium for the New Spain’, Modern Language Studies, 8.2, 65-71

  • Weingarten, Barry E. 1984. ‘Dramatic Point of View and Antonio Buero Vallejo’s La Fundación’, Hispanic Journal, 5.2, 145-53

Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 12 November 2010.

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