Out of the Wings

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Los siameses (1965), Griselda Gambaro

English title: Siamese Twins
Date written: 1965
First publication date: 1967
First production date: 1967
Keywords: violence > social, violence > torture, violence > murder, identity, identity > hierarchy, family > brothers/sisters, power > inter-personal/game play, power > intimidation, power > use and abuse

Poor thing! His face has changed. Now no one will get us confused.

In this absurd and forceful play, two brothers, one weak, one strong, play out a primal scene of envy, cruelty and torture as the strong exerts his power and aggression over the weak.  Involuntarily, the audience finds itself complicit in the brutality witnessed onstage through Gambaro’s command of a powerful and irresistible black humour.  Here the absurd becomes a harrowing metaphor of the most pure and raw reality.

First performed in 1967, this is an early, yet startling brilliant, work by the internationally acclaimed Argentine playwright, Griselda Gambaro.


At the centre of Los siameses are Lorenzo and Ignacio, twins who form the well-known archetypes of Cain and Abel.  One brother’s envy leads him to subject his more successful and independent twin to cruelty and to torture, and finally to conspire to bring about his murder.

At the beginning of the play Lorenzo, having thrown a stone at a child on the street, is being chased by the child’s father.  The first thing we hear is the sound of his footsteps running down a corridor before he bursts onstage through a door, slamming and locking it behind him.  Ignacio is some paces behind and when he meets the shut door, he pleads to be let in because the child’s father is getting close and will mistake him for Lorenzo.  While Lorenzo is safe inside, he cruelly refuses Ignacio’s desperate appeals to be let in.  Moreover, he taunts his brother from behind the door.  When Ignacio eventually takes the beating meant for his brother, Lorenzo screens out this distressing violence which we hear but do not see, and calmly writes him a letter which he then slides under the door towards Ignacio.  ‘Answer me in writing!’ he says to the slumped, damaged body on the other side.  The ruthless incongruity of this act gives some flavour of the grotesque nature of Lorenzo’s interactions with his twin – and yet, it is at the height of this cruelty that moments of black comedy emerge.

Ignacio is finally admitted to the room by Lorenzo but the sadism continues.  Ignacio wants to ‘cut the cord’ between them.  He wants Lorenzo to leave the house of his parents so that he can establish his own family there.  Lorenzo will have none of it; he humiliates Ignacio, relentlessly eroding everything which represents his brother’s wish to become separate.  He claims to have heard Ignacio making love to his girlfriend and makes provocative and undermining comments about Ignacio’s performance.

At the end of Act One two grotesque police officers arrive at the house on the trail of the man who threw a stone at a child’s head and Lorenzo sets Ignacio up as the culprit.  Ignacio is arrested by these officers, and taken away.

This injustice, under the direction of Lorenzo, is carried through into the second act which opens with Lorenzo relishing having his parents’ home to himself.  But Ignacio is released and returns, asserting his wish to marry his 15-year-old girlfriend, Inés, and bring her to live in the family home.   Lorenzo must either leave or accept this new couple.  He seems to relent and manages to restore Ignacio’s trust in him, but when the two police officers return to the house, he then betrays his brother once again by setting him up as the perpetrator of his own crimes.   The rest of the play takes place around the prison where Ignacio is wrongfully held prisoner.  We encounter two more grotesque characters, Old Man and Young Man, who become indifferent witnesses to this perversion and following his killing by the two officers, Smiley Face and Nasal Man, eventually assist in the burial of Ignacio’s body which is disposed of in an unmarked grave.   As Diana Taylor points out, this secret assassination of an untried man, which takes place off-stage unseen by the audience, prophesises the disappearances of so-called ‘subversives’ which were to follow in Argentina after 1967 particularly during the repression  of 1976–83.

  • Gambaro, Griselda. 1967. Los siameses: 2 actos. Buenos Aires, Insurrexit

Useful readings and websites
  • Taylor, Diana. 1991. Theatre of Crisis: Drama and Politics in Latin America. Kentucky, The University Press of Kentucky

  • Versényi, A. 1993. Theatre in Latin America: Religion, Politics and Culture from Cortés to the 1980s. New York, Cambridge University Press

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

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