Out of the Wings

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La negra (1999), Luis Miguel González Cruz

English title: The Negress
Date written: 1999
First publication date: 2001
First production date: January 2003
Keywords: love, love > desire, love > lust, violence, violence > murder, power > use and abuse, power, power > inter-personal/game play, society > poverty, violence > torture, women, love > friendship

Like many young women, Ana wants a tattoo. She wants it from Captain, the best artist in town. Long ago, before drugs ruled his life, Captain was a renowned tattooist. He even designed his own famous tattoo – la negra – a mysterious dark woman who covers his chest. Now, Captain has a chance to give la negra a new lease of life, reborn on Ana’s chest. It will be a brutal and painful process, as Captain’s masterpiece takes its terrible toll on Ana and those around her.


In a rundown apartment, a group of junkies spend their days taking drugs. This is Captain’s kingdom, a gifted tattoo artist who used to ride the roads with his motorcycle crew. Now, most of his crew are dead, overcome by heroin’s siren call or crushed by waves of cocaine. Unwilling to pay for her next fix, his lover Isabel sells her body in alleyways and bars. But she does not let her ‘business deals’ get her down. Constantly high, Isabel spends her days dancing in the apartment or lightly taunting Ray, a younger dealer who, one day, will challenge Captain for his throne.

Captain’s reputation as a tattooist brings Ana to the junkies’ den. She does not use drugs, and simply wants Captain to tattoo a rosebud on her back. After inspecting Ana’s naked body, Captain refuses to tattoo her, claiming he is not in the mood. Isabel apologises to Ana for Captain’s refusal. She mysteriously attributes his reluctance to la negra – the negress. This arouses the curiosity of both Ana and Ray. Many people have heard of Captain’s negra, revealed to be a tattoo across his chest, but nobody is quite sure what la negra looks like or if it is based on a real person. Nonetheless, enchanted by Ana, Ray promises to convince Captain to give her a tattoo like la negra. This tattoo, Ray hopes, will turn Ana into his own princess.

Ray and Ana return to Captain’s apartment to try to persuade him to tattoo Ana. At first, once again, Captain is unwilling. Ray appeals to Captain’s artistic vanity, insisting that it is time for a new negra to be created. Half-convinced, Captain inspects Ana’s naked body again to decide where he would potentially place a tattoo. Isabel realises that he finds Ana sexually attractive. She makes it clear to Ana that she would not object to her sleeping with her man. In fact, Isabel tells Ana how pleasurable the experience is. The image of la negra is emblazoned on Captain’s bare chest. When he makes love, this black woman looks like she is dancing, as Captain’s torso moves and writhes in pleasure. But just as Ana is uninterested in taking drugs, she also has no sexual interest in Captain.

Captain eventually agrees to give Ana a tattoo. He warns her that, after so many years of taking drugs, his hands might shake, making the process even more painful … and possibly dangerous. Undaunted, Ana tells him to go ahead. Despite all the talk of la negra, she still hopes for a tattoo of a rosebud on her back. But Captain ignores her wishes and decides that he will tattoo her under her left breast. He does not, however, deem it necessary to tell Ana what the tattoo will be of. The procedure begins. Captain brings his tattoo gun down on Ana’s naked chest. Almost immediately, she struggles with the pain. But Captain persists, straddling his artistic subject to hold her down as she screams. Eventually, Ana passes out. This will be her fate for much of the play, as Captain ties her up and continues to create his mysterious masterpiece on her chest. At times, Ana pleads to be released. At other times, she sleeps deliriously, or wonders – as Isabel tends her wounds – what exactly Captain has drawn on her. During this ordeal, Ray drinks heavily and takes heroin. When not in the apartment, he spends his time insulting and threatening the last remaining member of Captain’s motorcycle crew – the Gypsy. Throughout the play, Captain has periodically left his apartment to share a bottle with the Gypsy and to reminisce about the past. But Ray is not interested in the bond between the men. The Gypsy owes Ray money for drugs. When he does not pay, Ray kills him.

Captain completes his tattoo on Ana’s chest. High on drugs as usual, Isabel and Ray untie her bandages to inspect his work. But the tattoo is still raw; a bloodied mess which makes Ray vomit. Shocked at Captain’s handiwork, he goes to confront the older man. The confrontation is bitter, as Captain decides that Ray must die. Not only did Ray murder the Gypsy, but he is also a liability, knowing everything about Captain and la negra. A fight ensues, but it is Ray who wins. It is a hollow victory, however, as Ray tells Captain’s dead body that he never wanted to claim his throne in such a brutal manner.

Back at the apartment, Isabel packs her bags to head for the sea. Ana’s chest is now covered in a huge black scab. It is itchy, starting to heal. Isabel promises that Ana will soon have the image of a beautiful black woman across her chest – la negra. Before Isabel leaves, Ana asks for some cocaine. This is the first time in the entire play that Ana has taken any drugs. Thus, when Isabel leaves, her last words are ominous, taken from a song about a drug overdose. Isabel’s king is now dead, and a new king and queen have taken their place. Ray may have fulfilled his promise to make Ana a princess, and even made her a queen, but it is uncertain just how long this young woman – her chest bearing the scars of Captain and la negra – will last on the throne.

Critical response

La negra (The Negress) was awarded the Borne prize in 2001. It has been translated into several languages, including Catalan, English and Italian, and was staged in Milan in 2004.

  • González Cruz, Luis Miguel. 2001. La negra. Available on the Teatro del Astillero website, http://www.teatrodelastillero.es/pdf/lanegra.pdf [accessed May 2011] (Online Publication)

  • González Cruz, Luis Miguel. 2002. ‘La negra’, Primer Acto 294, 17-42

  • González Cruz, Luis Miguel. 2004. ‘La negra’, CELCIT: Dramática latinoamericana, 145, http://www.celcit.org.ar/publicaciones/dla.php [accessed May 2011] (Online Publication)

  • González Cruz, Luis Miguel. 2005. La negra. Madrid, Teatro del Astillero

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Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 22 May 2011.

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