What pretty heads we have now. And independent too …
Black Light is a conversation between two severed heads in the aftermath of an execution. The heads belong to Goter, a revolutionary, and Moter, a thief. The punishment of death was for their respective crimes of thinking and stealing. Strangers before death, they make friends under these unusual circumstances. But if they can converse, are they really dead? Endlessly sidetracked by the digressions of their colourful and absurd conversation, the two strive to know what kind of existence it is they are living.
The play begins in a public square littered with human detritus and leaflets soaked in blood, the publicity to accompany the spectacle of two public executions.
The decapitated corpses lie inanimate, but the severed heads which belong to these bodies are still talking. They are Goter, a revolutionary, and Moter,a thief, who were sentenced to death for their respective crimes of thinking and stealing. When they first open their eyes, they observe their slumped and bleeding bodies and surrounding gore, and ask themselves whether they can be heard by anyone other than each other. They try to think of a word to shout to the people who pass by, as a way of knowing if they continue to exist in the land of the living. ‘Love’ is the first word they think of, although they also dabble with the possibility of ‘shit’, but decide it’s not appropriate.
A street sweeper arrives, to clear away the debris but the two heads say nothing. Their conversation then ranges from discussing the kinds of death they would have preferred, to politics, to religion, to a confused account of what year it is. Is it the year of Hitler, the year of Mao-Stalin, the year of Che Guevara?
A couple enters laughing lasciviously, but the woman stops laughing and Goter and Moter deduce that it was the sight of their decapitated corpses which provoked horror. The man drapes a handkerchief over Moter’s face.
The two go on to discuss the public’s reaction to their executions and the fact that in killing them together, an idealist has been equated with a thief. They talk about Justice, Goter recites a poem but cannot remember the ending and Moter reflects on the meaning of memory before they both realise they have lost sight of their plan. They start to practice shouting ‘Love’, not together because they want to hear each other. No one else does.
In Scene Two the stage has become dark but Moter tries to see the bright side of being beheaded: now his corns won’t hurt him anymore. Goter is preoccupied by flies having intercourse on his nose, although he speculates about whether his spirit will live on in the offspring they are generating. A little girl comes to light candles by their bodies and takes the handkerchief from Moter’s face before running away. They wonder if she was an angel; will they be buried, and does God exist?
A character called Blindman enters with his dog, and Goter and Moter mistake the sound of his cane for the building of coffins. They are taken with the Blindman’s dog and try to guess his breed. Is he an Afghan or ‘Dog Howling at the Moon’ by Joan Miró?
Their curiosity then turns to the Blindman himself, and how he lost his sight. They hear his story of how he joined the French legion during the war of liberation in Algiers but was captured by the French and his wife was tortured. He describes being forced to masturbate mentally in front of a picture of Brigitte Bardot before having his eyes gouged out by the guardsman’s thumb.
When they discuss the recent executions, the Blindman begins to suspect that the voices he is hearing belong to the men who were executed. Goter and Moter deny this, claiming simply that a part of their body is missing. Moter reads out the justification for the executions which is printed on the blood-soaked leaflets scattered around the stage. The three all hear something different: the Blindman, a city ordinance, Moter, an insulting manifesto and Goter, a song of liberty and peace.
The Blindman suggests joining forces: combining his able body with their eyes which can see, but Moter and Goter refuse. Before the Blindman leaves, the three fiercely debate the name of the square they are in, although all three argue for the same name: Liberty Square.
Goter and Moter wait for someone else to come but conclude that everyone is at home, watching television and ‘satiated with emotions’. Moter asks Goter if he would do all the same things again if given the chance. Moter says he was on the side of the French Legion in Africa, but never actually fought because he ran away with a black dancer.
Goter asks again who gouged out the Blindman’s eyes. This time Moter’s explanation is that it was the Yankees, and that it happened in Vietnam. Goter says it was Algiers. They argue about this for a while, each fervently defending their case for Vietnam or Algiers , although these become interchangeable with Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the Arabs in Israel, the Jews in Biafra, Bolivia and so on. The argument is resolved by Goter with the words: ‘Whatever you say; but it was on Earth’.
Towards the end of the play Goter and Moter experience something strange. They are beginning to feel themselves to be less tangible. As they begin to lose hope in their plan to make contact with the living world, Verdi’s Requiem can be heard.
As a man begins to wash away their blood by throwing buckets of water down the stage, the play reaches its climax. Goter and Moter at first tentatively say the word ‘love’, then they shout and scream it for dear life, but are drowned out by the crescendo of Verdi’s trumpets of the Last Judgment.
Álvaro Menén Desleal is a prize-winning dramatist. He won the Juegos Florales de Quezaltenango prize in 1965 for Luz negra. He also won the Premio Nacional de Cultura (El Salvador) in 1968 and the Premio Miguel Angel Asturias (Guatemala) in 1970. Several of his works have been translated into French, English and German and performed internationally.
Menén Desleal. Álvaro. 1967. Luz negra. El Salvador, D.G.P.
Schanzer, George. O. 1974. ‘El teatro hispanoamericano de post mortem,’ Latin American Theatre Review, 7.2, 5-16 (in Spanish)
Entry written by Gwendolen Mackeith. Last updated on 5 October 2010.