Out of the Wings

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La nona (c.1977), Roberto Cossa

English title: La nona
Date written: c. 1977
First production date: 1977
Keywords: identity > class/social standing, identity > race, identity > ethnicity, family > brothers/sisters, family > patriarchy, identity > race, family > duty, family > parents and children, society > poverty

A dysfunctional Italian immigrant family are being eaten out of their house and home by their grandmother.  As the family heads towards ruin, they take extreme measures in their attempts to replenish the funds which are being leeched by the elderly woman’s voracious and insatiable appetite.


Three generations of an Italian immigrant family live under one roof.  Carmelo and Maria are parents to Marta forming the nuclear family who cohabit with Carmelo’s brother, Chicho, their unmarried aunt, Anyula, as well as their elderly grandmother, la nona.

Carmelo runs a fruit stall, Maria tries to keep the family in order, assisted by Anyula, who is anxious to tend to every whim of her favourite nephew, Chicho.  Chicho is supposedly an artist, a composer of tangos, yet in reality he is a layabout who reads the newspaper in bed all day and makes no contribution to the finances of the household.  Marta maintains the charade of working in a chemist, although this is a cover for her work as a prostitute.  And then there is la nona, whose insatiable appetite is quite literally eating the family out of their house and home.

The play begins with Carmelo’s realisation that the family's income will not see them through until the end of the month.  Meanwhile, Marta goes out every night supposedly to work at a chemist, but is collected by a mysterious man in a Ford Falcon, a car typically associated with the secret police of the military junta of the 1970s.

The first, and most obvious, solution to the family’s financial problems is for Chicho to find to work.  Chicho, unwilling to part with his life as the out of work artist, however, has other plans.  He tries to convince Carmelo that la nona, may not pose an ongoing drain to their resources as, owing to her age, she might die suddenly.  They take la nona to the doctor for a medical opinion.  The doctor reassures them that la nona is fit to live for many years to come, thus Chicho’s rationale  for not working backfires. Chicho then tries to lose La nona on the stroll to a park, but she returns.

Chicho develops an elaborate rouse to marry la nona off to Don  Francisco, the owner of a kiosko with the false promise that La nona is on her last legs and that, in the event of her imminent death, he would stand to inherit  a significant fortune, as well as the opportunity to get closer to the lovely Marta.  Francisco is convinced and the family arrange a civil ceremony.

At the beginning of Act Two we see Francisco paralysed and defeated by la nona who simply goes on eating.  Francisco, now dependent, also takes up residence in the family home.  Carmelo has been forced to sell his stall and Chicho has resorted to selling bibles.  The family must part with its symbols of material success, remortgaging the apartment and selling modern creature comforts such as the television and fridge.

Marta dedicates herself full-time to prostitution, working from home and is sick with disease.  Carmelo has taken to drinking and Chicho plans la nona’s assassination by attempting to poison her, but the poison is drunk instead by his trusting aunt, Anyula, who dies.

The family home is now emptied of furniture and Carmelo and Chicho are selling flowers in a cemetery, while Marta is in hospital.  When they return home with their wares, La nona eats the flowers as a salad causing Carmelo to drop dead.  Marta’s death in hospital follows and Maria goes to live with her sisters in Mendoza.  Chicho is now alone with La nona and we hear him shoot himself offstage.  The audience is left with la nona onstage chewing bread, her monstrous appetite as voracious as ever amidst the ruin and destruction it has caused.

Critical response

La nona is Roberto Cossa’s best known and most performed play.

  • Discépolo, Armando and Cossa, Roberto. 1986. El grotesco criollo: Discépolo-Cossa, antología. Buenos Aires, Colihue

Entry written by Gwendolen Mackeith. Last updated on 15 June 2012.

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