Out of the Wings

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Los engranajes (1997), Raúl Hernández Garrido

English title: The Gears
Date written: 1997
First publication date: 1997
First production date: September 2010
Keywords: morality > crime, morality > punishment, morality > judgement, violence > murder, violence > social, identity > gender, family, history, history > narrative, power > use and abuse, love > relationships, family > parents and children, love > lust, family > mothers and daughters

What makes a person commit a terrible act? The Gears explores this question, as it takes us on a labyrinthine journey through a young woman’s life. Set adrift in an unloving and exploitative world, this young victim gradually becomes a villain.


Nina and Miguel are on trial for murder, accused of killing, and then eating, Miguel’s work colleague Sergio. How did such a young woman, 24 years of age, end up a murderer? How did she find herself married to the violent and domineering Miguel, a man almost 30 years her senior? Los engranajes (The Gears) moves us back and forth through different scenes from Nina’s past, weaving these together with her present, to show how life made her both a victim and a criminal.

Gradually, and in a fragmented fashion, Nina’s sad life unfolds. We see how she was abandoned by her single mother. She spends her childhood in a convent, surrounded by censorious nuns. When she does return to her mother as a young adolescent, Nina soon becomes sexually active. She has a relationship with her mother’s lover. After becoming pregnant by this man, Nina is forced by her mother to have an illegal abortion which leaves her unable ever to have children.

Nina never forgives her mother for the loss of her lover and her child. She marries Miguel, a 53-year-old factory worker who spends his time tending to a huge industrial oven. Miguel never had a mother, and wants to encourage a reconciliation between Nina and her own mother. But the hurt is too much, and Nina reacts angrily when Miguel tries to welcome her mother into their lives. Things turn violent as Miguel beats Nina for her behaviour towards her mother. Whether he and Nina’s mother are having an affair is never made fully clear, although we know that Miguel has dangerous sexual tastes. He has a violent encounter with a prostitute, only for her to later turn up dead. But with Nina Miguel cannot perform sexually. Instead, Miguel spends increasing amounts of time with his industrial oven, which he calls his ‘woman’, stoking it up to dangerous temperatures. At work, Miguel meets 26-year-old Sergio. The men soon become friends, and Miguel invites Sergio for dinner. This is when Nina and Sergio first meet. Miguel’s impotence, combined with Nina’s inability to form healthy relationships with other adults, mean that she and Sergio quickly become lovers. But things soon turn sour. Work tensions between Sergio and Miguel elevate, and the older man intimates that he knows about the affair. Nina tells Sergio that Miguel has become increasingly violent towards her. Regretful about having betrayed his friend, yet worried about the safety of the woman he loves, Sergio wants Nina to run away with him. Nina refuses, claiming that she would never be free of Miguel. Instead, we soon see Sergio standing over Miguel with an iron bar, about to strike. He cannot go through with it, however. Angry at Sergio’s cowardice, Nina claims that Miguel knew about the two of them all along – that the affair was purely for Miguel’s vicarious sexual gratification. As if by magic, Sergio falls down dead. Did Nina kill him, or was Miguel lying in wait? Nina and Miguel discuss what to do with the body. But it is late, and they decide to go to bed, leaving the bloodied corpse on their rug. At last, their bodies come together, and they make tender love. Nina’s mother is coming to dinner the next day. In preparation, Nina chops up Sergio’s body and puts the chunks in a pot.

Nina’s childhood, marriage and the eventual crime unfold in a series of disjointed and fragmented scenes. These scenes are interspersed with actions taking place in the present, as an investigating judge oversees the trials of Nina and Miguel. The pair are obviously guilty. Nevertheless, the judge wants to understand why they did what they did, to understand the human beings behind the crime. In the end, Nina ceremoniously offers those present in the courtroom pieces of Sergio’s flesh. The crowd goes crazy for this offering, breaking through the barrier of guards. Suddenly, without warning, guards open fire on the masses. The dead and dying bodies are dragged away.

The play ends with a scene from another life. This is the life Nina could have led, had not fate been so cruel. She sits on a beach, while a little boy laughs and plays. Tenderly, Nina tells the boy just how much she loves him.


The play was inspired by the case of a couple in the former Soviet Union who killed a family friend and then went to bed to make love. The next morning, the woman made hamburgers out of the corpse.

Critical response

Los engranajes (The Gears) was awarded the Lope de Vega prize in 1997 and in 2008 was turned into a film entitled Antes de morir piensa en mí (Think of Me Before You Die). The film of the play was directed by Raúl Hernández and set during the Franco regime in Spain, between 20 December 1973 and 20 November 1975. These are significant dates in Spanish history, the former marking the attempted assassination of President Carrero Blanco, the latter being the day Franco died. Despite their dark and sexual content, both play and film have received very positive reviews.

Further information

Like Hernández’s earlier work Los malditos (The Damned), Los engranajes (The Gears) forms part of the cycle of plays published together under the title Los esclavos (The Slaves). These plays are inspired by Michelangelo’s series of four statues of slaves in Florence which were supposed to be added to the tomb of Pope Julius II, along with other statues from the Louvre. Seeing the perfection of the statues that would stand alongside his, Michelangelo decided not to finish his slaves, leaving the signs of his work visible. In this way the unfinished slaves seem to struggle against the material from which they are wrought. Hernández considers Los engranajes (The Gears) to be the second stage of his struggle to find new ways to tell old stories, to break out of established moulds, just as Michaelangelo’s slaves appear to be doing (Hernández 1997).

  • Hernández Garrido, Raúl. 1997. ‘Los surcos de la lluvia: Algunas reflexiones sobre experiencias en la escritura teatral contemporánea’. In Cuadernos de Dramaturgia 2. Alicante, Instituto de Cultura Juan Gil-Albert (in Spanish)

  • Hernández Garrido, Raúl. 1997. ‘Los engranajes’, ESCENA

  • Hernández Garrido, Raúl. 2002. Los engranajes. Madrid, Teatro del Astillero

  • Hernández Garrido, Raúl. 2004. Los engranajes. Alicante, Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, http://bib.cervantesvirtual.com/FichaObra.html?Ref=12873&portal=14 [accessed May 2011] (Online Publication)

  • Hernández Garrido, Raúl. 2009. Los esclavos. Los malditos; Los engranajes; LOS RESTOS: Agamenón vuelve a casa; LOS RESTOS: Fedra. Madrid, Teatro del Astillero

  • Hernández Garrido, Raúl. n.d. Los engranajes. Available online at the Ars Teatrichal website of the University of Valencia, http://parnaseo.uv.es/Ars/Autores/Hernandez/engranajes/inengra.htm [accessed May 2011] (Online Publication)

Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 22 May 2011.

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