GENTLEMAN: I like to experience strong sensations, but I believe this social solidarity has lasted too long now. I ought to begin to think of my health.
This is a play about class. The liberal bourgeoisie is weighing down on the working class. Quite literally. A gentleman and a lady sit astride two workers who bear their weight on all fours as their social superiors pontificate about social justice, the ‘armed revolution’ (a literary metaphor) and democracy whilst sipping at a gin and tonic. Political protest is a form of performance in which the gentleman and the lady insist that their workers take part to prove that they are liberated, as long as it doesn’t interrupt anything important such as, for instance, a night out at the theatre.
The biting irreverence of Jorge Diaz’s humour undermines easy ideological solutions and instead, through laughter, stirs the audience’s conscience beyond the safe rational world of intellectual and political rhetoric.
The play opens with a formally dressed gentleman sitting on top of a man, Plácido, who is on all fours and is dressed in rags. The gentleman is delivering a seemingly erudite speech propounding the virtues of social evolution and equality; this is at the same time as betraying a complete lack of faith in this system of belief and taking actions which contradict it entirely. For example, the gentleman has trained Plácido, the underdog he is sitting on, to recite, at the click of his fingers, the benefits of revolution for the working class.
The play unfolds in this absurd and wickedly funny vein, satirising the solutions for social injustice and inequality offered by ideologists and the comfortable classes who perpetuate the very structures they claim to undermine.
A lady in the audience pipes up in response to the gentleman: ‘Bravo, bravo!’, applauding his speech as if this were a performance for her entertainment at the theatre. The gentleman obliges the lady’s request to perform a protest song, and afterwards she joins the gentleman on the stage where, at the snap of her fingers, her own underdog Epifanio appears, also on all fours for her to sit on.
Incongruities and contradictions abound. The gentleman speaks of UNESCO and the matter of human rights, whilst muzzling Plácido. The lady then flippantly refers to Charlie Marx whose writings she gave to Epifanio who cannot read. The gentleman claims to be ‘insatiable’ in his desire ‘to know and understand others’ and wants to find out what it’s like to be the person being sat on. He gets down on all fours and the lady sits on top of him.
The two of them go on to sing more protest songs before they’re interrupted by a commotion with police and ambulance sirens. It’s a protest by the children of the bourgeoisie and they’re breaking the windows of the stock exchange, although ‘as soon as they finish they’ll go to supper in Milagrito’s father’s Mercedes’.
The gentleman looks out into the audience and sees the lady’s son being beaten by the demonstrators. They leave the stage to rescue him and Plácido and Epifanio are left on the stage, unaware that their owners are no longer bearing down on their backs. They discuss their social status and Epifanio confesses that the most distinguished relative he has is a ‘subaltern’. The two come to the slow realisation that their owners have gone and consider standing up.
The two do stand, not without hesitation at first, but then it is not long before Plácido asks if he can sit on top of Epifanio’s back. Epifanio resists and he and Plácido merely imagine what it would be like to speak, laugh, sweat, smell, swallow, dance, lie on someone else’s back. The two wonder at what is in store for them, what is their future as changed people from being on all fours to standing. Epifanio starts to realise that ‘more things are gotten when one is on all fours than when one is standing’ and even begins to wonder if it was a mistake to stand up. The cries and shouts of the protest are heard once again and the lady and the gentleman return to the stage. Epifanio starts begging and the lady hands him a coin insisting that he spend it on seeing a ‘good film by Antonioni’. Plácido and Epifanio begin to ‘organise’ themselves to protest for their own justice. At one point Plácido and Epifanio are given placards by the gentleman and the lady; one says ‘yes’ and the other says ‘no’. The two advance towards each other from opposite ends of the stage holding the signs while the gentleman and the lady make comments about how barbarous and uncivilised they are. When they meet, after a few seconds, they begin pounding each other on the head with the signs. Epifanio dies and the gentleman and the lady declare him an intellectual, a ‘traitor to the proletariat’. Meanwhile, Plácido resumes his position on all fours, but then slowly begins to stand. Once again the gentleman snaps his fingers and he goes down on all fours once, but then slowly begins to stand again. The four actors on stage then break out of character and ask the audience how the play should end.
Díaz, Jorge. 1967. Teatro. Madrid, Taurus Ediciones
Díaz, Jorge. 1996. Antología subjetiva: teatro 1963 – 1995. Santiago, Red Internacional del Libro
Díaz, Jorge. 1973. Love Yourselves Above All Others. In Selected Latin American One-Act Plays, eds. and trans. Francesca Colecchia and Julio Matas, pp. 177–204. Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press
Rosenberg, Joe. 1978. ‘La Compañia de Teatro Bilingüe’, Educational Theatre Journal, 30, 2, 240-52
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Entry written by Gwendolen Mackeith. Last updated on 9 August 2011.