Out of the Wings

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El cepillo de dientes (o náufragos en el parque de atracciones) (1960), Jorge Díaz

English title: The Toothbrush (or Castaways in the Amusement Park)
Notable variations on Spanish title: The Toothbrush, or Shipwrecked People in the Amusement Park
Date written: November 1960
First production date: May 1961
Keywords: identity > gender, family > marriage, ideology > morality, history > narrative, power > inter-personal/game play, love > relationships

… And if two people can’t cry together over the same things, what else can you do? … It’s in your hands, ladies and gentlemen!  But remember that all of us, all of us, have a toothbrush … !

It’s breakfast time for a husband and his wife and there are many games to play to escape the boredom of a repetitive conjugal routine, even enacting a domestic homicide.   In this absurdist comedy we witness a couple who can’t remember each others’ names performing their marriage with anything but authenticity.  They speak an empty language of news headlines, jingles, sexual fantasies, lonely heart and self-help columns, soap operas, tango lyrics, all to bring titillation to their loveless existence.

This is a brilliant two-hander which stands out as one of Jorge Diaz’s best plays.


In this hilarious masterpiece, a married couple conduct their daily ritual of a battle over breakfast.  The stage is a modern apartment, divided into two styles of furniture, antique Spanish and modern Danish which represent two identities which retain their separateness.  Beyond their window is an amusement park where the sound of a merry-go-round can be heard and echoes the circular and repetitive nature of their married life.  Husband and wife are nameless and are referred to in the script as ‘Him’ and ‘Her’.

The play opens with a dialogue between the voices of a man and a woman who deliver the melodramatic lines in the style of a soap opera:

‘HER VOICE: How can we survive?

HIS VOICE: Survive what?

HER VOICE: This overwhelming love.’

We then encounter Him and Her who can’t remember each others’ names.  She refers to him as ‘my little darling’, which he dislikes, and he calls her a series of names, Mercedes, Marta, Consuelo, all of which are not her own.  There is bitterness and resentment and the only forms of communication between the two are borrowed from the media, rather than being any meaningful or intimate exchange.  They comment on the news, read each other self-help articles, entries in the lonely hearts column, the lyrics of tangos and the jingles from advertisements.  He proposes a threesome with a French woman.  She is unmoved by jealousy, just simply concerned for the lack of space in accommodating this third person in their marital bed.

As an attempt at creating frisson and amusement, the couple act out a crime of passion.  At the end of Act One He pretends to strangle Her with the cable of the radio.

In the second act the ‘corpse’ is supposedly hidden in the bedroom.  She reappears in a wig as Antona, the maid, who He tries to distract from entering the bedroom with a series of ridiculous deploys and attempts at seduction.

When Antola does eventually discover the body, the couple enact a police interview in which an officer questions her about the murder.  He then changes role from a police officer to a game show host and he then becomes a priest hearing a confession.

The consummation of the sexual tension performed by Him and Antola culminates in a grotesque and nightmarish embrace which is destructive and transformative.  When it comes to an end She comes out of her role as Antona and returns to her former identity.  Out of character, the two are faced again with tedium and a lack of passion and She makes bizarre suggestions for ways of spicing up their sex life: they could make love in Latin, in Sanskrit.

She tries to defend the good side of their life – the amusement park nearby.  He tells her he loves the way she smells, of a particular brand of washing powder.  They debate which brand is best: Bimpo or Tersol.  This debate escalates until they take up a knife and a fork to fight it out in a duel as a matter of life or death.  She plunges the fork into his belly and drags his corpse into the bedroom.

The doorbell rings.  It’s Him, his shirt stained with blood, clutching his stomach.   His dramatic last words attempt to close the play:  ‘Peace ... Peace’, which he retracts and amends to ‘Peace ... science ... patience’.  The couple then have a series of misunderstanding as their parting words.

At this point the stagehands begin to dismantle the set, the amusement park of the couple’s marriage, and the two cry out that they haven’t finished yet.  The lights also start to go down so that they are forced to light matches to be seen.  She begins to play the harp.  The music she plays is the leitmotif of the play, the sound of the merry-go-round.  He sits in rocking chair, knitting; ‘It’s been a wonderful day', he says.  Their last words recall the beginning of the play with a sense that tomorrow the game will begin all over again.

‘HER VOICE: How can we survive?

HIS VOICE: Survive what?

HER VOICE: This overwhelming love.’

  • Díaz, Jorge. 1961. El cepillo de dientes. In 9 Dramaturgos hispanoamericanos: Antología del teatro hispanoamericano del siglo XX, 3, ed. Frank Dauster, pp. 63-120. Ottawa, Ontario, Girol Books

Useful readings and websites
  • Boling, Becky.  1990. ‘Crest of Pepsodent: Jorge Díaz’s El cepillo de dientes’Latin American Theatre Review, 24.1, 93–103

  • Salgado, María A. 1977. ‘El cepillo de dientes and El apartamiento: Two Opposing Views of Alienated Man’, Romance Notes, 17.3, 247–54

  • Walser, Leyland A.  1982.  ‘Ship in a Crystal Jar by Jorge Díaz: Communication Crisis in a Technological World’, Language Quarterly, 21.1–2, 7, 12

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

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