Two brothers. One is the natural child of his parents, the other was adopted. His origin has been kept from him – the child of a political prisoner, wrenched from his birth mother as soon as he entered this world. Now, one woman wants to reveal the truth. She is looking for her long-lost brother, and will stop at nothing to find him. But the truth is often as elusive as it is painful.
Electra is searching for something. Years ago, in her own country, her parents were the victims of a brutal dictatorship. They were imprisoned and Electra’s brother was ripped from his mother’s arms as soon as he was born. He was adopted into a family involved in the torture and assassination of thousands of political prisoners. Now, Electra has come to an isolated war-torn town to find her brother and to reveal the truth. Here, two brothers, Orestes and Pylades have taken refuge from the gunfire and bombs in an abandoned house. Electra believes that Orestes is her brother, and wants to take him away from Pylades and back home to his rightful family. Orestes and Pylades have been brought up together as brothers. When Electra threatens to break them apart, Pylades puts up a fight. He sleeps with her, violently, and abuses her physically. He desperately wants her to leave his brother alone. But Electra will not be deterred. She wants her real brother to know who he is and to understand that his adoptive parents have been guilty of participating in crimes against his real parents.
With Pylades so vehemently opposed to Orestes having anything to do with Electra, the young woman devises a plan. She pretends that she is interested in Orestes sexually. In this way, she causes a rift between the brothers as she lures Orestes away from Pylades. Electra never sleeps with Orestes. He does not yet know she is his sister, and cannot understand why she will not sleep with him when she agreed to sleep with Pylades – a man she so obviously hates. In frustration, Orestes returns to Pylades. Bombs fall on the city, and Electra turns up at the brothers’ house looking for refuge. Orestes will only allow her in if she tells him the truth about why she is interested in him. And so, ignoring Pylades’ threats, Electra finally reveals to Orestes that he is her brother. She tells him about the inhumane treatment of pregnant prisoners during the dictatorship in her home country. Babies were taken from their tortured mothers as soon as they were born. Orestes was one of these children. Orestes and Pylades are now separated by the knowledge that one is the child of a victim, the other the child of a couple who colluded in torture.
Orestes admits that he always suspected that he was adopted. But he also suspects something else. Pylades was always the favourite child, and now Orestes knows why. He now realises that his parents took special pains to ensure that the kidnapped baby - the baby born in tragically cruel circumstances - truly felt part of the family. This baby was Pylades, and not Orestes. Orestes now understands that, in an act of brotherly love, Pylades did not want Orestes to realise that he was the child of collaborators and kidnappers. Consequently, Pylades led his brother Orestes to believe that it was he who was the stolen and wronged child. Reluctantly, Electra accepts that the brother she has been looking for is the very man she despises - a man she also slept with.
Time passes, and Pylades and Electra are living together in a remote lighthouse. Their relationship is still as volatile as ever, even though they have been reunited as brother and sister. They have not seen Orestes for a while, after a fight took place between him and Pylades. Electra wonders if Orestes is still alive. She soon finds proof that he is. Under the floorboards, she finds the bloodied clothes of a man and a woman. Pylades reveals that the clothes, and the bloodied heart that they find with them, are a gift from Orestes. Upon learning that he was the child of parents prepared to condone and participate in kidnap and torture, Orestes murdered his mother and father. He arrives at the lighthouse, ready to start a new life with Electra. Pylades, seeing that there is no place for him, leaves. But the characters will not be separated for long. In the end, Electra, Orestes and Pylades pay a touching visit to the terrifying hangars that saw so many women separated from their children, forever.
Argentina’s Dirty War and ‘Los desaparecidos’
The play takes as its source the atrocities that took place during Argentina’s Dirty War (1976-83). This was a dark period in Argentina’s history, during which the military dictatorship targeted liberals and those who spoke out against the oppressive regime. Thousands of people were rounded up and tortured in clandestine detention centres. Many victims of torture were put on flights and dropped into the sea. Their bodies were rarely recovered, so that, to this day, many families have no idea what happened to their loved ones. The missing are described as ‘Los desaparecidos’ (The Disappeared). Those prisoners who were pregnant were forced to give birth in shackles. Babies were then taken from their mothers and given to military families. Many of these children still do not know they are adopted. Those who do have had to struggle with the knowledge that they have been brought up by parents who colluded in the torture of their natural parents.
Throughout the play we hear personal accounts of the torture that individual female prisoners suffered. The accounts are taken from actual victim transcripts, and the playwright lists the organisations from which he has taken these, including the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, which is one of the most influential bodies in Argentina still fighting for the return of stolen children to their rightful families.
Orestes, Pylades and Electra
The characters are named after figures from Greek mythology. Orestes and Electra were the children of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra. Clytemnestra kills Agamemnon in revenge for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia to the gods, as well as because she has taken a lover. As a child, Orestes is sent to live with Pylades. Pylades and Orestes become very close – according to some sources their relationship was homosexual. When Orestes grows up, he returns home and, with the help of Pylades and his sister Electra, he avenges his father by killing Clytemnestra and her lover.
The play was awarded the Born Theatre prize in 2000.
Hernández Garrido, Raúl. 2001. Si un día me olvidaras. Available for download at http://hernandezgarrido.com/biblioteca.html [accessed May 2011] (Online Publication)
Hernández Garrido, Raúl. 2001. Si un día me olvidaras. Madrid, Caos Editorial, http://www.caoseditorial.com/libros/ficha.asp?id=10 [accessed May 2011] (Online Publication)
Plays whch are marked by a sense of desolation, with characters wandering ghost-like through apocalyptic settings, or else dealing with traumas that have devastated the inner landscapes of their minds.
Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 6 June 2011.