Out of the Wings

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Los malditos (1993-2009), Raúl Hernández Garrido

English title: The Damned
Date written: from 1993 to 2009
First publication date: 1994
First production date: October 1999
Keywords: identity > hierarchy, power > war, ideology > honour, violence > revenge, violence > torture, violence > social, ideology > war, power > use and abuse
Genre and type: magic realism, tragedy

One island, many lost souls. Their leader was once a hero. Now, it’s every man for himself in a struggle for survival in the harshest of terrains.


Los malditos (The Damned) is set on a remote island. The Commandant came to it many years ago and amassed an army of natives to join his own men. Now, the Commandant’s forces are depleted, worn down by the harsh jungle and torn apart by betrayals. As the play begins, an old Sergeant is accosted by a Boy. The Boy is brave, but at only 12 years old, he is no match for the battle-weary Sergeant. The Boy insists that he wants to enlist in the Commandant’s army. To him, the Commandant is a mythical hero. The Sergeant claims that no such man exists. Undeterred, the Boy continues his search alongside the Sergeant, hopeful that the soldier will eventually bring him face-to-face with the legendary Commandant.

Meanwhile, in another part of the jungle, two of the Commandant’s men, Tanit and Denit, watch as natives offer up gifts for the Commandant. While Tanit and Denit are also natives, they do not share their emaciated brethren’s blind worship. Tanit, in particular, has a cruel streak. He gives the order to abuse the natives and give them a reason to fear the Commandant and his men. Later, however, as he and Denit relax in the sun, it becomes clear that Tanit’s own fear and respect for the Commandant are waning. With Denit as his audience, he embarks on a diatribe about their treatment under the Commandant. His speech is a call to arms, as he resolves to take back the island for the natives and establish himself as supreme leader.

The Commandant first appears in scene 8. His hold on the island may be weakening, but he is still an imposing presence. On his orders Tanit, Denit and another native, Carnit, destroy parts of the forest. The noise of trees crashing to the ground reaches the Sergeant and the Boy. Mad with fear, the Boy fires gunshots at the sky. This alerts the Commandant’s men, and they capture the Sergeant and Boy. Evidently old acquaintances, the Commandant condemns the Sergeant to a slow painful death, accusing him of being a traitor. As for the Boy, the Commandant releases him, living up to his heroic image. Disgusted at the Sergeant, the Boy now taunts him while he hangs from a tree in a net. He is not the Sergeant’s only visitor, however. An Old Soldier also visits. He, too, is one of the Commandant’s comrades, as the Sergeant once was. The Old Soldier is saddened to see his friend condemned to death, but refuses to flee himself, for fear that he will suffer the same fate.

The years on the island have taken their toll on all concerned, including the Commandant. Alone, he reflects on his life, but is soon interrupted by the presence of the Boy, who insists that he wants to become a soldier. Aware that the Boy knows little of warfare, the Commandant nevertheless accepts his claims to loyalty. Tanit and Denit are less welcoming towards the new recruit, however. Lasciviously, Tanit tries to assault the Boy, only to stopped by the Commandant, who gives the child permission to beat his attacker. While his leader is absent, Tanit takes his anger at the beating out on the Old Soldier, who has arrived with great news. He has, finally, managed to contact Central Command. They are sending planes to take them off the island. Tanit is unimpressed. Sadly, the Old Soldier will not be going anywhere, as Tanit slits his throat.

Now fully committed to their mutiny, Tanit and Denit destroy the Commandant’s camp and disappear. The Commandant has only the Boy and Carnit left at his side. He sends Carnit to finish the Sergeant off. But the Sergeant manages to overpower his assailant. Yet he is unwilling to behave as callously as his former comrades, and so he does not kill Carnit. The Commandant and the Boy are also in danger. Planes fly over the island. But they are not there to rescue anybody; they are there to kill them. The aerial bombardment terrifies the Boy and he flees into the forest. This air attack is followed by the arrival of a flotilla of ships. Tanit resolves to kill or capture the Commandant, in the hope that this will satisfy the invaders so that they will leave his island alone. Suddenly, as he and Denit talk about delivering the Commandant to the fleet, Carnit emerges from the undergrowth. He has finally abandoned his leader. However, unlike the others, he has not betrayed the Commandant; he is simply exhausted. Denit is terrified at the sight of him, especially when Tanit hacks through Carnit’s head, with no effect. Unharmed, Carnit shrinks back into the undergrowth, like a spectre.

Meanwhile, the Boy has come across the freed Sergeant in the forest. He takes solace in having some sort of authority to follow. Nevertheless, the Boy is devastated at having failed the Commandant. His misery, exhaustion and fear drive him mad. He brings the shocked Sergeant a severed head in a bag, and howls like a wolf, which alerts Tanit and Denit to their location. The Sergeant is blinded by Denit and Tanit ties the Boy to a tree, intent on torturing him before killing him. However, before he can do so, the Commandant emerges from the forest. Like an avenging angel, he slits Tanit’s throat, and sets the Boy free. The Boy now has orders to bring the blinded Sergeant to the Commandant at the beach.

The play concludes with three scenes set on the beach. In the first, the Commandant gives his final mission to the Sergeant. He wants the Sergeant to kill him, so that he does not die a captive. The Commandant helps the blind man shoot him dead, much to the Boy’s despair. His hero died before he could make amends for his cowardice. In the second scene, the Commandant accuses the Boy of failing him. Before the Boy can explain himself, the forest erupts in flames. In the third final scene, the Boy orders the Sergeant to kill the Commandant. To him, his hero is now nothing more than a defeated old man. Once again, the forest suddenly erupts in flames. These three endings all happen, mysteriously, at the same time.


Che Guevara’s Death

The Commandant’s weakening control over his troops refers loosely to the last days of the revolutionary Che Guevara (1928-67), when he was based in the Bolivian forest just before he was captured and executed. Raúl Hernández’s imagination was captured by the situation of this revolutionary, as he explains:

He [Guevara] went there to realise his pan-American revolutionary dreams, but he found himself completely isolated, out of contact with Cuba and ignorant of the reality of life in Bolivia. (translated from Guzmán 1999)

The famous photograph of Guevara’s dead body surrounded by soldiers made a great impression on Raúl Hernández. He was also inspired to write the play because of a fake photograph of Guevara standing on a seashore, unable to go any further to escape from his enemies. However, Hernández also points out the play is not meant to be taken as a dramatisation of Guevara’s last days. Guevara’s imminent death is a reference point, but the depiction of the exhaustion and futility of war could be that of any conflict (Guzmán 1999).


The Commandant quotes from the Bible on a number of occasions. In scene 16 he reads from Genesis 2. In scene 19 as he buries the Old Soldier he reads from both Genesis and Ecclesiastes.


There are a number of aspects of the play that reference Shakespearian plays. The dreamlike/nightmarish atmosphere of the island calls to mind the strange island setting of The Tempest (Hernández has also written a play entitled Calibán).

In scene 33 Denit and Tanit recite lines from the opening witches’ scene from Macbeth.

Guillermo Heras, who directed the 1999 Madrid production of the play, notes a similarity between the blind Sergeant being led by the Boy at the end of the play and the blinded Gloucester from King Lear.

Critical response

The 1994 text of the play won the Calderón de la Barca prize that year. The production directed by Guillermo Heras in 1999 was also very well received. Many critics called attention to the strikingly oppressive atmosphere created by the forest/jungle setting.

Further information

There have been a number of slightly different versions of the text of Los malditos (The Damned) as Raúl Hernández has made changes and updated his play. In the original, published in 1994, scene 26 features an incident in which the Commandant and Carnit encounter a native woman in the forest. She carries a dead child and she herself falls down dead at their feet. In later versions, this incident does not feature, but is referred to by the characters, as Carnit digs a grave for an unknown woman. In the production staged in 1999 and directed by Guillermo Heras, the character of the Boy is revealed in the course of the play to be a girl in disguise.

Los malditos (The Damned) is part of a cycle of plays published together under the title Los esclavos (The Slaves). The inspiration for this cycle came from contemplation of Michelangelo’s series of four statues of slaves in Florence. These were supposed to make up part of Pope Julius II’s tomb along with other statues from the Louvre. Seeing the perfection of the statues that would stand alongside his, Michelangelo decided not to finish his slave statues, leaving the signs of his work visible. In this way the unfinished slaves seem to struggle against the material from which they are wrought. For Hernández the sight of these half-formed characters struggling futilely inspired the writing of a series of plays featuring characters trying to avoid or escape from inevitable fates. He writes of Los malditos: ‘Like [Michelangelo’s] sculptures, the text contorts and does not materialize as a fully formed work but rather as an expression of the anxiety of creation’ (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. 1994. Los malditos. Alicante, Biblioteca nacional de Alicante. Digital edition available at http://www.cervantesvirtual.com/FichaObra.html?Ref=12872&portal=0 [accessed October 2010] (Online Publication)

  • Hernández Garrido, Raúl. 1995. ‘Los malditos’, Primer acto, 260.4

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

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Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 4 January 2011.

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