History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Latin American Pre-WWII

Florencio Sánchez

Florencio Sánchez described the financial ravages on a family brought about by a father's gambling habits

Of particular note in early 20th century Latin-American drama is "En familia" (In the family, 1905) by Florencio Sánchez (1875-1910), born in Uruguay whose plays were first presented in Argentina. A provident son lies in despair when his improvident family attempts to eke out a miserable life.

“In the drama, En Familia, the author ventilates the problem through an irresponsible family consisting of Don Jorge, a cynical gambler absolutely lacking in will power, his re- signed wife, their two frivolous and spendthrift daughters, and their younger sons, Eduardo and Tomasito. Damian, another son who has succeeded in life and is happily married, returns to the paternal home only to find his mother in tears...Eventually Damian, who attempts to rehabilitate his family, learns the bitter truth. His father gambles the money which he had entrusted to him to deliver to a friend for the payment of a note that had fallen due...[In the course of the play, he becomes] disillusioned completely and dejected by his inability to improve his family's lot" (Ramirez, 1966 p 588).

Shedd (1936) pointed out that "In the family" resembles in many ways Brieux' "Betting results" (1898), dealing with the evils of gambling among the laboring classes. "The weakness of the father for the races and gambling brings about the family disaster. The mother attempts to shield both father and son. The son tries to arrange things. The catastrophe hinges upon the entrusting of a sum of money for an identical purpose. The father uses the money for payment of a gambling debt and in a vain attempt to cover his losses. The characters of Arsene and Don Jorge are the same even to such details as the telling of evident falsehoods in order to obtain money to satisfy the desire for gambling. Neither has any ambition, nor does either one try to overcome his weakness. Neither is willing to work though given the opportunity. And to the very end, each recognizes his weakness and shows his shame in a similar manner, fearing, because of shame, to face his son when finally returning home. Victor and Damian are also parallel in character. Each is enough of an idealist to feel himself strong enough and capable of reforming the father and of rescuing the family. Each is ready to sacrifice his own future and happiness, and that of his sweetheart or wife for the sake of the family. Each scolds his father and obtains as a result a confession of the latter's inability to assert his own will" (pp 423-424).

“Is Sánchez a great dramatist? From the point of view of literary form and style, most critics appear to agree that he is not. However, I believe that the fact that throughout his brief career of but seven years he produced twenty plays, many of which received the highest praise of the critics of that day and are still receiving high praise, and the fact that he is still, a half century after his work was begun, the best known Spanish American dramatist whose drama has been the basis of scholarly studies throughout these years, not only in his own land, but also overseas and in other lands of Spanish America, point to his lasting fame as a dramatist of the people, an innovator in the Rio de la Plata theater, and an outstanding representative of his native land” (Shedd, 1956 p 36).

"In the family"

Jorge feels constrained to gamble despite the harm done to his family. North and South American roulette wheel layout

Time: 1900s. Place: Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Text at ?

Members of the Ocuna family prepare to receive the eldest son, Damian, for dinner, along with his wife, Delfina, but his mother, Mercedes, worries that they have no money to pay for it. Eduardo, her younger son, is no help, specifying he does not like work and is determined to live unashamedly as their parasite. She hopes her husband, Jorge, will arrive with money: vain hope! "I don't have a radish," he admits, having gambled away all his money. She is forced to ask Damian to pay for his own dinner and, on the same occasion, exposes the true state of their finances. Damian admonishes his father for being so improvident. "One takes a pick to work the earth," he urges, but the father prefers to gamble than to work. In this desperate situation, Damian proposes to take charge of the entire family. He asks everyone to contribute except his father, but is discouraged by what he sees. After asking his sister, Laura, to type a brochure for him and waiting for a reasonable amount of time, she admits she has not done it yet. He scolds her. "Here's the couch-grass in the salad!" she replies and wanders negligently off. One day, Delfina notices that her ring is missing. Eduardo reveals that his younger brother, Tomas, pawned it, but it is retrieved by the mother. After spending the night out, Jorge returns back home. When Mercedes asks him where he was, he answers he does not know, but needs money. Without her knowing about it, Damian asks his father to take out money from his bank account for the sake of a friend of his while Laura orders an expensive dress for herself. When Damian learns of his sister's purchase, he says he cannot pay for it, but then changes his mind. On learning of the money transaction, Mercedes already weeps in fear that her husband has stolen it for gambling. All too true. Unable to pay, Damian informs his father that he will call the police, at which Jorge leaves without a word. "O, Delfina, I want to cry, to yell with pain," Damian declares. "Yes, cry, my poor Don Quixote!" his wife replies consolingly.

Federico Gamboa

Gamboa evoked rural vendettas. 1915 portrait of the author by an unknown artist

Mexican theatre of the 20th century began with a strong rural drama: "La venganza de la gleba" (The vengeance of the rabble, 1905) by Federico Gamboa (1864-1939).

"The vengeance of the rabble"


Time: 1900s. Place: Mexico.

Text at ?