Out of the Wings

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La noche de los asesinos (1965), José Triana

English title: The Night of the Assassins
Notable variations on Spanish title: The Criminals, The Murderers
Date written: 1965
First production date: 1966
Keywords: morality, violence > personal, violence > social, violence > murder, identity > class/social standing, family > brothers/sisters, family > patriarchy, family > adolescence, history > change/revolution, power > inter-personal/game play, love

When the Gods are silent, the people shout.

It’s 1950s Cuba, before the revolution of 1959, and three adult siblings are in the basement or attic of their family home, acting out the murder of their own parents.  Is this a fantasy, a rehearsal or the re-enactment of what has already taken place? In this deadly serious game of make-believe, children revolt in a world where there is no love between parents and children.

José Triana’s play won the prestigious Casa de las Américas prize in 1966 and is widely regarded as one of the most significant Latin American plays of the twentieth century.


It’s 1950s Cuba, before the revolution of 1959,and three siblings - Lalo and his two sisters Cuca and Beba - are alone together in their family home.  Although they are adults, they play a child’s game of make-believe, but with deadly serious overtones.  While there are only ever three actors on stage, Lalo, Cuca and Beba play an extensive repertoire of other characters, including their own parents.

Lalo bursts onstage and announces ‘a murder’ to which his sister responds ‘the performance has begun’.  At the beginning of this ritualised game, Lalo tells us he has murdered their parents.  The audience will not know if this is a fantasy, or if Lalo is telling us about something he has actually done or plans to do.  He describes his parents’ corpses as sticky and stiff and the house seems to echo these dead bodies.  It is full of disorder and decay: no piece of furniture is where it should be and cockroaches, rats, moths and caterpillars roam freely.

Cuca wants to tidy up, to create some semblance of the order that her absent parents stand for but Lalo reacts violently, not wanting anything to be moved.  He insists the ashtray must be on the chair, and not the table, and the vase should be on the floor.  In this new configuration, it is not the parents who are in charge and a new dynamic between the siblings begins to emerge where they tussle for the power and authority that once belonged to their mother and father.

Imaginary guests begin to arrive: their parents’ friends.  The siblings enact their parents interacting with their friends and acquaintances, exchanging superficial pleasantries: ‘How’s your urine?’ / ‘Is your bladder working ok?’ / ‘What?  They still haven’t operated on your sphincter?’   When Lalo turns against these imaginary guests, he suddenly ejects them from the family home, much to their chagrin and the guests remark on‘what beastly children’ they are.

The children’s parents are supposedly away.  This is a disturbing and anarchic parentless world, where fantasy feels uncomfortably close to what is real.  We begin to familiarise ourselves with the mother and father of the house through impersonations of them by Lalo, Beba and Cuca.  These are controlling parents who snobbishly put emphasis on social status; they place a burden of expectation on their children to compensate them for their unhappy marriage and unfulfilled lives which they claim to have sacrificed in the interests of their children.  We witness the re-enactments of family arguments and hear the authoritarian voices of the mother and father through their children’s imitations.  The parents scold Lalo, haranguing him for being a slob, a thief and a swine.

At one point Cuca asks Lalo:  ‘Why do you blame Mum and Dad for everything?’  Lalo tells us he had to get rid of their parents in order to be free of their expectations.  Thus a new hierarchy is being established where it is children, not parents, who are at the helm.  At times, the tension in the game becomes so intolerable that one of the three is unable to bear it and comes out of character, but the boundary between fantasy and reality becomes increasingly thin, as the play gathers momentum and the pressure on Lalo to kill his parents mounts.

Cuca pretends to be a newspaper seller who announces their parents’ murder in the press.  Beba and Cuca then play police officers who come to investigate the murders.  Lalo must sign a confession of his guilt.  Amidst childish scraps in which they play themselves, the three enact a court scene and take full advantage of the theatrical potential of this imagined scenario.  When Lalo is asked directly by the court ‘Why did you kill your parents’, he replies ‘I wanted a life’.

There is hatred in this play, from the fruits of a loveless marriage. There is human intimacy being dictated by society.   And  there is also poignancy.  At the end, Lalo erupts in his last emotive lines: ‘Oh Beba, Cuca, if only love could do it ... If only love ... Because in spite of everything, I love them.’

With that the game ends with the sense that straight away, they will play it again.

Critical response

La noche de los asesinos has been performed all over the world and has gathered worldwide recognition.  It is considered to be both a classic and a masterpiece in the corpus of theatre written in Spanish.  The play has been read by critics as both a call to revolution as well as an anti-Castro allegory, marking the complexity of its dimensions.

  • Dauster, Frank, Lyday, Leon and Woodyard, George, eds. 1979. 9 Dramaturgos hispanoamericanos: Antología del teatro hispanoamericano del siglo XX , pp. 145 – 221. Ontario, Girol Books

Useful readings and websites
  • Dauster, Frank N. 1976. ‘The Game of Chance: The Theatre of José Triana’. In Dramatists in Revolt: The New Latin American Theater, eds. Leon F. Lyday and George W. Woodyard, pp. 167–89. Austin, University of Texas Press

  • Escarpenter, José A. and Linda S. Glaze. 1990. ‘José Triana’. In Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Cuban Literature, ed. Julio A. Martínez, pp. 466– 70. Westport, CT, Greenwood Press

  • Murch, Anne C. 1973. ‘Genet – Triana – Kopit: Ritual as Dance Macabre’. In Modern Drama 15, pp. 369–79.

  • Nigro, Kirsten F. 1977. ‘La noche de los asesinos: Playscript and Stage Enactment’. In Latin American Theatre Review 11.1, 45-57

Entry written by Gwendolen Mackeith. Last updated on 5 October 2010.

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