[by Kala Fuenmayor and Angelo Romagnoli]

The internationally renowned Venezuelan playwright and theatre director Rodolfo Santana was born on October 25th, 1944, in Guarenas, a humble dormitory town in the outskirts of Caracas, Venezuela. He was one of six brothers. The main influences in his early life were his mother, Aura Salas, a teacher, and his grandfather, Antonio Salas. Both nurtured his humane and intellectual growth and gave him access to his grandfather’s library filled with tomes by Shakespeare, Dumas, Proust, Verne, Gallegos, and many other national and international authors.

In his sixty-eight years of life, and in a playwriting career which started at 17, he wrote no less than eighty-four plays. Santana himself commented on his prolificity:

In Venezuela, there’s this concept that I possess an unbeatable prolific capacity. I am a drama stud, according to comments. A playwright that rides the creative cow and writes a play every day. That is false. I write very slowly, that is why I cannot work for television, it is emerging. I cannot be emergent, even if I write a horrendous play. I am a gardener, and every play takes me at least five years.

A clear example of my truth is [the play] Nunca Entregues tu Corazón a una Muñeca Sueca, I started writing it in ‘72 and finished it in ‘94. Twenty-two years later. And my play came out so well that I won the Santiago Magariños Award for the year 1994 (Moreno-Uribe, 1995: 12)*.

Initially, Santana did not see himself writing for TV but in 2004 he branched out with a telenovela Amores de Barrio Adentro, directed by Román Chalbaud.

He also wrote original screenplays for movies, like El Caracazo (directed by Chalbaud too in 2004), and adapted several of his plays for the silver screen, such as Los Criminales (directed by Clemente de la Cerda in 1981), La Empresa Perdona un Momento de Locura (directed by Mauricio Walerstein in 1982), Fin de Round and Una Abuela Virgen (both directed by Olegario Barrera in 1991 and 2007, respectively).

Regretfully, all his earliest plays, written for community theatre in the slums of Petare, are lost. We have no first-hand documentation on the author’s early style and content and on the seeds of his later works. We do know that after a disastrous performance of one of Cervantes’ short plays, which ended in booing and rock throwing, Santana decided to start writing characters that, inspired by his surroundings, reflected the struggles of the local population. This approach proved more successful, and the playwright realised the significance of his work:

There [in Petare], with this simple play [Primera Inquisición], where the fundamental thing was communicating with the people, that is when I understood that theatre was a social necessity, as important as sleep and food (ivi: 55).

Of Santana’s later work, as said before, we have over 80 plays available, but we also know there are others the author himself “killed” along the way, in what he calls “obricidio” or “playgicide”, in translation.

Playgice is the murdered play. A ritual where I burn the piece, with all the research and references, because, if I don’t do it, the text threatens to annihilate me… So, I have assassinated several works, and, in my case, it has been restorative. I don’t get attached to them, and their shortcomings are due to the limits of my talent.

I learned that a theatre play is a living being. A probable world with specific laws, that sometimes, if we don’t know how to handle it as a living form, it’s capable of consuming us (ivi: 74).

Santana kept editing his plays even after they had premiered or were published. He kept re-writing them as author, as spectator and as social critic (Rivera-Rodas, 2013: 107). Moreno-Uribe says that Santana «would completely redo them once he detected that the language and the characters no longer existed in the reality in which they were immersed. He did not forget the Petare of his adolescence and what he had learned with blood, sweat and tears»[1]. Such a deep understanding of the role and responsibility of the playwright-as-artist within society, along with his attitude towards constant revision of the text and vehement effort to publish his work in order «to save them from the mortal drawers of eternal wait, to have them reach interested producers and directors, inside and outside of Venezuela, and to reach the audiences they were always written for» (Moreno-Uribe, 1995: 9) is a very powerful combination that most likely led him to worldwide recognition through the decades.

By the late 1960s came a ground-breaking point for Santana. In 1968 he won the Concurso de Teatro de la Universidad del Zulia with his plays La Muerte de Alfredo Gris and Los Hijos de Iris (Honorary Mention). The next year it was 2nd place for the play El Ordenanza, while in 1970 he had the great distinction of being the first ever recipient of the Premio Nacional de Teatro with the play Barbarroja. Quite funnily, Santana received the award in a rather “unceremonious” ceremony, in the office of the presidency of the INCIBA – Instituto Nacional de Cultural y Bellas Artes. The representative of the institution came into the room, handed Santana the cheque, and that was it![2] Santana was accompanied to the event by two of his closest friends at the time: Hernán Lejter «one of the stars of Venezuelan theatre» (Moreno-Uribe, 1995: 56) and Leonardo Azparren Giménez who, Santana says «strived to educate me as a playwright. He showed me the entire works of Brecht, as much as the theorical works of Meyerhold, Barrault, Appia, etc… Leonardo’s recommendations about language, ellipsis, themes, structure, completely modified my creative models» (ivi: 55). Again in 1970, he won the Premio Juana Sujo[3]for Best Play with El Sitio.

These were years of acknowledgement: in 1971, a year after winning the Nacional Theatre Award, the INCIBA granted him another major prize, one that took the playwright/director around the world «to study [the] theatre of Spain, the United Kingdom, France, Colombia, Peru and Mexico» (Chesney, 2017: 190), after which, in 1973, he returned home to Venezuela. During his travels Santana continued to accumulate accolades and recognition, nationally and abroad: in 1972, he won again for Best Play in the Premio Juana Sujo, this time with La Farra, while the play Tarántula (written in 1967) won the Honorary Mention in the León Felipe International Theatre Award in Mexico. In 1973, Moloch (1967) premiered at the University of California directed by Santana and then also performed at the Chicano Theatre Festival. The play Babel was published in the April 1973 edition of Mester (Santana, 1973: 42-56). La Farra, directed by Rodolfo Molina participated in the IX International Theatre Festival of Nancy, France (Luzuriaga, 1973: 65-69). That same year, Santana became the recipient of the Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in the field of Drama and Performance Art for the region of Latin America and the Caribbean. In 1975 the play El Gran Circo del Sur won the Premio Nacional de la Crítica, and again in 1978 with El Animador and Los Ancianos.

In 1979, while attending a theatre conference in India, by invitation from Humberto Orsini, Santana met Prime Minister, Indira Ghandi. Santana’s account of that meeting goes as follows:

When it was my turn to greet her, I said:

You are a beautiful woman, Mistress Ghandi.

In reality, what I wanted to say was:

You are a Great woman, Mistress Ghandi.

But the first sentence came out. Indira Ghandi turned her face and told by-standers:

This is the first compliment in twenty years. Thanks, Rudolph (Moreno-Uribe, 1995: 52).

I confess I have travelled. A lot. I know almost the entire world by invitation. I have gone through three passports because there was no more space for stamps: spending little money on my part. If not, I would not have been able to do it because my financial status has always been precarious. I have never bought a ticket and I have travelled all of Europe, Africa, Asia. That is how I travelled all of India (ivi: 50)

Prizes kept pinpointing Santana’s career: in 1980, he won for the second time the Premio Juana Sujo for Best Play with Gracias José Gregorio y la Virgen de Coromoto por los Favores Recibidos. In 1982, he won the Premio Consejo Nacional de la Cultura for the play Fin de Round; and the Premio Nacional de la Crítica, for the third time, with Historias de Cerro Arriba. In 1986, the play La Empresa Perdona un Momento de Locura is published by Casa de las Americas, Cuba (Santana, 1998: 241-299; Id., 2017: 195-253). In 1988, Santana participated with his own theatre troupe Grupo Cobre in the III International Theatre Festival of Cadiz in Spain (Reverte-Bernal, 1989: 113-120), with outstanding performances by Freddy Pereira and Dalila Colombo in the two main roles of La Empresa Perdona un Momento de Locura (Caballero, 2018). It is worth noting of Santana’s journey so far that:

Since the 70s, Rodolfo Santana’s plays were widespread through all of Europe and the rest of Latin America, but between 1990 and 1994 thirty-two plays were staged, which were seen by dozens of thousands in Bolivia, Argentina, the United States, Germany, Italy, Spain, Romania, Portugal, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Mexico, Guatemala, Sweden and Finland (Moreno-Uribe, 1995: 8).

The 1990s began with a publication of Baño de Damas in the «Revista Tramoya» (Santana, 1990: 20-90) and, in 1991, he won the Playwriting Award in the Festival Nacional Juvenil de Teatro y Danza, with the play Mirando al Tendido, written back in 1987 and still one of his most popular plays to date.

The year 1992 represented yet another turning point for the Venezuelan playwright and for the diffusion of his works worldwide. As Santa Isabel del Video appeared on the Spanish magazine of the Centro de Documentacion Teatral El Público, Santana travelled to Italy for the Dionysia Contemporary World Drama European premiere of his Mirando al Tendido. This is a time of extraordinarily complex political and societal changes, when the collapse of the Iron curtain intermingles with the Postcolonial debate of those years and the shock of the Capaci bombing added to the sensation that times were achanging. Indeed, the Dionysia Festival was a once-in-a-lifetime occasion to see some of the great theatrical minds of that time at work and to join their conversations during meals and rehearsal breaks. Roots, heritage, mythologies, and the essence of being human, more than ever, were at the core of the artistic enquiry of the invited authors: British playwright Howard Barker came over to present his Ego in Arcadia (Barker, 1990), while Italian playwright and director Ugo Chiti came over with ArcAzzurra Teatro to perform Paesaggio con figure the first part of his trilogy La terra e la memoria (Chiti, 1994) on Tuscan rurality. Cuban-born American writer Maria Irene Fornés joined in to present an early version of her Terra Incognita (Fornés, 1993: 99-111), a ninety-minute opera libretto with virtuoso singers written for Puertorican-born composer Roberto Sierra, on «the problems of historical revisionism and personal responsibility in a world governed not by spiritual and humane values but by the rules of big business’» (Frank, 1998: 98). Russian playwright Alexander Galin, one of the brightest figures of Soviet Theatre, presented his comedy Titul, later to be entitled The Italian, on the four characters’ failed plans to become rich and noble thanks to the miraculous purchasing powers of the Italian Lira. Congolese writer and playwright Sony Lab’Ou Tansi presented Une Chouette petite vien bien osée (Lab’Ou Tansi, 2015), while the Polish star playwright Sławomir Mrożek, then self-exiled in Mexico, presented his comedy Wdowy (Mrożek, 1994) written after four years of inactivity. Spanish playwright José Sanchis Sinisterra joined in with his Miséro Pròspero (Sanchis Sinisterra, 1995) inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Also, East-German director and playwright Lothar Trolle joined the kermesse with his Der tod meines nachbarn Otto Linke, with 1986 Nigerian Nobel Prize for Literature novelist, playwright and poet Wole Sonyka with his From zia, with love (Soyinka, 1992).


Wole Soyinka (Nobel Prize for Literature 1986) and Rodolfo Santana. Dionysia Festival, Siena (Italy), 1992. Courtesy of TINTATEATRO.

For his European premiére of Mirando al Tendido (Santana, 1992), Santana was accompanied by two extraordinary Venezuelan performers, Freddy Pereira and Raimundo Mijares. The play is a one-act dialogue between an old bullfighter (el Niño) and a bull (Florentino) in a peeling and decaying bullring. Accompanied by the supporting cast, the main torero (Pereira) enters the arena awaiting the bull behind a burladero, as a loud pasodoble stirs a drunken crowd of Gringo tourists unbeknownst of the cultural roots of the exotic fight they’re assisting to. Despite such a miserable audience, the torero respectfully displays a fierce and danger-despising attitude as he eschews death while elegantly looking at the stands. Indeed, the bull will immediately horn him and break his femoral artery. In the very fading of the torero’s consciousness, the two commence an oneiric and fantastical exchange in sharp contrast with the pace of the ear-splitting and cacophonous screams of the crowd. El Niño and Florentino start their death ritual in the guise of poetic and philosophical dialogue in which the torero learns that human technique of the tauromaquia is mirrored by a counter-technique of the bulls: «Las enseñanzas que se transmiten de vaca a vaca y éstas inculcan a los becerros…» (ivi: 5) as Florentino says to an incredulous Niño. Also, no bull ever forgets which torero kills his relatives, as in the case of Florentino’s cousin Clavelino, killed by el Niño, which left behind «siete becerros huérfanos y dos vacas viudas y mugientes» (ivi: 12). In this intersection of diverse perspectives, Florentino reveals that the Virgin of the Macarena, supposedly protector of the bullfighters, is indeed “nauseated” by corridas and considers them “the sport of the devil”. El Niño reacts with incredulity and sarcasm when he learns that Florentino craves to return to the Blue Prairies as a reward for winning this battle, where his beloved cow Lola awaits him, «un valle sin limites… la hierba es tan nutritiva que tiene el color del mar…» (ivi: 8). The counterculture of the bulls is therefore constructed on the diverse cognitive capabilities of the animal, which has developed a complementary narrative to the bullfighters’. Santana juxtaposes a series of coexisting worldviews revolving around withering rituals in local cultures: misbehaving tourists ridiculing the corrida by screaming “gol” instead of “olé”, the mirroring cultures of the bullfighters and of the bulls, who know of the inherent vicious disloyalties of humans spreading Vaseline in the bull’s eyes or filing the horns to fog his perception of space. But still, it is on the ground of tradition and lineage (abolengo) (Unruh, 2008) that the two characters claim their full entitlement to their respective roles: el Niño asserts his Spanish origins «Mi padre es de Sevilla y aunque yo naciera en América tengo lo que hay que tener…» (Santana, 1992: 10) as evidence of a bullfighter’s noble bloodline as a bullfighter and legitimacy of his style as Florentino accuses him of being effeminate and disrespectful of his own tradition. On the other hand, Florentino claims to be descendant of an important breed of bulls and therefore to deserve a decent rival. And as Pereira learnt from a Venezuelan bullfighter, he passed his knowledge to the Italian actors on the proper use of the capote, the banderillas and the puntilla to be performed in the three different phases of the traditional bullfight: the Tercio de Varas, the Tercio de Banderillas and the Tercio de Muerte. Both Santana and Pereira asked for specific rehearsal sessions to properly learn the use of the capote and insisted that the three Italian actors showed no hesitations during the performance. Indeed, Santana, Pereira and Mijares had a graciously dissimulated penchant for perfectionism which sometimes bursted into fierce discussion: during the staging days of the play at the Monastero d’Ombrone, Santana and Pereira had a furious exchange on the exact point of the centre front stage, where the stage was obviously a round bullring. Their “opinions” differed for no more than 20 centimetres, and while the discussion seemed preposterous back then, it took years of experience to the greener artists to grasp the deep implications of their conversations and to appreciate their invaluable teaching.

The première on 8 June 1992 was incredibly well-received and the audience clearly came to grasp the poetic and spiritual essence of Santana’s theatre. In his interview for the Italian National broadcasting service Rai 2, he stated:

La obra tiene una serie de lecturas, una de las más principales es la que se refiere a la decadencia, es decir la decadencia de la fiesta brava. Allí yo he tratado de internalizar una serie de otros procesos de decadencia que se dan en este mundo moderno, tomando el caso por ejemplo de la ideología, la subsistencia de lo material sobre lo espiritual. Indudablemente, pervierte modos vitales de existir. El deseo de vivir se transforma en el deseo de conseguir y de lograr cosas, se pierde la facultad de crear, que es algo importantísimo, porque si hay algo generoso es la capacidad de crear y la capacidad de crear no está reducida solamente a los creadores, a los dramaturgos, a los pictores (sic), yo creo que todo ser humano tiene una posibilidad infinita de crear y de participar en este mundo y de hacer lo mejor. Esa lectura también está en este encuentro donde un animal y un hombre se definen y encuentran verdades bastante similares en un rito de muerte y de encuentro consigo mismo.

El dramaturgo es un ser vivo que trata de recuperar lenguajes, trata de recuperar la historia para asomar posibilidades de dignificación y de encuentro entre el ser humano: que se encuentre con su respecto, que se encuentre de nuevo con la posibilidad de un lenguaje poético y al mismo tiempo filosófico, que lo haga permanecer; ese amor que muchas veces, que ahora está oscilando en el mundo sobre áreas de terror, de incomprensión. Hay que retomarlo y darle, reinventarlo, darle nueva definición para que la convivencia en este momento excepcional del ser humano sea posible y nos transformemos en unos navegantes de estrellas que es el destino del hombre según creo yo[4].

Despite a proposal of a Russian tournée of Mirando al Tendido being initially discussed[5], that did not eventually follow suit, Santana’s travel to Italy proved fruitful nevertheless and inspired his play Influencia turística en la inclinación de la Torre de Pisa (Santana, 1996). Again, Authenticity, Identity and Heritage were at the core of his playwriting, this time inspired by the already ongoing commoditisation of Italy’s cultural heritage, and once again conveyed by yet another paradoxically grotesque and marginal story.

From 1992 onwards, Santana’s reputation kept growing steadily and invitations to reputable industry events such as I Congreso del Autor Dramático Iberoamericano (Puerto Rico, 1993), I Taller de Dramaturgia de Caracas (Venezuela, 1995), Conversatorio sobre Dramaturgia Latinoamericana (Mexico, 1996), Mesa de Dramaturgia Casa de América (Spain, 1997; Schmidhuber de la Mora, 2014: 166-169) multiplied. Simultaneously, his plays were regularly performed in Argentina, Mexico, Guatemala, USA, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Peru, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Europe. In 2007, the IV Festival Teatral de Autor (FESTEA) was dedicated to Santana, with twenty-three groups, from Venezuela and Mexico, performing eleven of his plays, among other works. In 2010, Rajatabla dedicated the II Muestra de Dramaturgia Nacional to the author as the opening play was Obra para Dormir al Público directed by Rufino Dorta and José Domínguez. That same year, the XVII Jornadas Internacionales de Teatro Latinoamericano in Puebla, Mexico were centered around Santana’s own personality and work. The next year, the VII Festival Internacional de Teatro in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, also honoured the playwright. In 2011, in Scotland, The Company Will Overlook a Moment of Madness an adaptation of La Empresa Perdona un Momento de Locura (1976) by Scottish playwright Morna Pearson premiered at the Òran Mór’s “A Play, a Pie and a Pint”, in Glasgow, and then in Edinburgh at the Traverse Theatre, in association with the National Theatre of Scotland.

On October 21st, 2012, Rodolfo Santana passed away, three days before turning sixty-eight. The memorial service was held at the Teatro Nacional in Caracas, accompanied by orchestral music by the Orquesta Sinfónica Municipal de Caracas, the distribution of a compilation of his plays and friends and colleagues by his side. On October 23rd a convoy accompanied the body to his final resting place in a cemetery in Guarenas, his birth town[6].

In 2013, the UK saw more of Santana’s plays on stage. Looking into the Stands (Mirando al Tendido) and Tourists’ Influence on the Incline of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (Influencia Turística en la Inclinación de la Torre de Pisa) received their premieres at the Corpus Playroom, University of Cambridge, both translated by Charles Philip Thomas, who would also translate The Men’s Room (Baño de Caballeros), The Ladie’s Room (Baño de Damas), Encounter in the Dangerous Park (Encuentro en el Parque Peligroso), Never Lose Your Head over a Swedish Doll (Nunca Entregues tu Corazón a una Muñeca Sueca), Dramatic Poem to Make the Audience Sleep (Obra para Hacer Dormir al Público), Time of Fire (Tiempo del Fuego) and Lost Angel in a Hostile City (Ángel Perdido en una Ciudad Hostíl).


Karla Sánchez, Baño de Damas (Compañía Nacional de Teatro, 2018). Kala Fuenmayor’s Personal Archives.

In 2018, the Compañía Nacional de Teatro staged a new production of Baño de Damas, directed by Aníbal Grunn (Grunn, 2019: 65-73) with a cast of 11 female actors and 2 male actors. The production toured cities across Central and Western Venezuela, namely Caracas (Capital District), Los Teques (Miranda), Maracay (Aragua), Valencia (Carabobo), Barquisimeto (Lara), San Carlos (Cojedes) y San Felipe (Yaracuy). The play also participated in the VII Festival Internacional de Teatro de Caracas and was the opening show for the XXXVI Festival de Teatro de Occidente in Guanare (Portuguesa); both that same year with sold out performances. Actress Kala Fuenmayor, who played Viviana in the production says:

In hindsight, the great value of Rodolfo’s writing is that it stays current and approachable. The characters depicted can be found in our surroundings today, and while some of them, Viviana, for example, can be very “caraqueños” in their mannerism, their basic human conflicts, hopes and dreams make them universal.

One of the most beautiful experiences a performer can have is finding the play’s resonance within the live audience. In the Baño de Damas tour we came across some willingly participating audiences (very much like Santana’s early Petare audiences). They would whistle at some sexy moments, laugh out loud with the jokes, chuckle nervously or get uncomfortably serious when the truth would hit close to home. This was especially true when the play touched upon the realities of drug use, sexual diversity, and teen pregnancy.

I particularly remember in San Carlos, during the last scene, groups of women that had come to see the play together standing up from their seats, screaming and waving their arms enraged, coming up to the edge of the stage. We (the cast) thought they were going to come up and take part in the scene too!

When a play can generate this kind of visceral reaction, you know you are on to something![7]

In 2021, the company staged Mirando al Tendido. directed by Rufino Dorta, starring Gerardo Luongo as El Niño and William Cuao as Florentino. The play ran at the Teatro Alberto de Paz y Mateos in Caracas during September and was the closing night performance of the VI Festival de Círculo Escénico, also in Caracas.

On July 24th, 2022, La Empresa Perdona un Momento de Locura was performed at the XIX Festival Teatral de Autor (FESTEA) in Caracas.

Rodolfo Santanas’s legacy clearly carries on in his plays. According to Leonardo Azparren Giménez, he belongs to the New Venezuelan Theatre, born after the fall of Marcos Perez Jimenez’ government on January 23, 1958. To this New Theatre belonged highly regarded and well-known figures such as the founders of El Nuevo Grupo, Isaac Chocrón, José Ignacio Cabrujas and Román Chalbaud or as they are popularly known, “The Golden Triad” of Venezuelan theatre (Azparren Giménez, 2014: 2585-2594).

Santana was 14 years old in 1958, and between 20 and 24 years old when he wrote them (his plays in the 60s). He did not have the experience before the new theatre. His first play is already new (Azparren Giménez, 2002: 79).

It would seem Santana was born in and for the New Theatre. His writing style, what Azparren calls Realismo Crítico Experimental (ivi: 80) or Experimental Critical Realism, in English, created a winning combination to propel this emerging new theatre forward.

Santana can be considered a renovator, an experimenter, whose intention will always be social and critical. He took from César Rengifo some of his social realism of the 50s, but with a renewed language, he also searched within the modern proposals, equalling the influences of the absurd and the cruel of Artaud with local images.

For this reason, Santana’s experimentation must be understood as a subversion, a real opposition to the approaches in the social and political order that the country (Venezuela) acquired in the past, assuming previous models of conventional theatre, but opening them to a free and imaginative language that utilizes the means of contemporary European avant-garde (Chesney, 2017: 192).

Santana provides his plays with a clear, coherent and progressive timeline structure, where actions develop forward, following a logical sequence. He subverts this “absolute” realism by adding absurd situations, for example in La Muerte de Alfredo Gris the two inmates, each occupying a bunk bed, fight over breathing separate airs. His time/space is ahistorical, allowing his subjects (both, characters and plot lines) to move between the specificity of the local and the universality of the global. Tessa Walker, Literary Associate of The National Theatre of Scotland, and Director of the Scottish adaptation of La Empresa Perdona un Momento de Locura says:

In putting the season together, we were very conscious that all of the plays needed to have a relevance in a culture outside of the one in which they were originally created… But good stories will always be relevant, will always have a place in the world and will always matter[8].

Moreno-Uribe furthers this argument when he writes:

Rodolfo Santana is the most vital and important Venezuelan author of this last decade of the century (1984-1994) and maybe of the whole century (XX century), as his arguments, characters and situations being authentically Venezuelan became universal, as it was proven in applauded performances in foreign stages (Moreno-Uribe 1995: 9).

His characters, inspired by marginal lives, but rooted in authenticity, remain essentially human and therefore accessible. In Mirando al Tendido, the bull is clearly humanized: it is given a name (Florentino), a voice and a family. In Elogio a la Tortura we get hints of “Jessop, The Torturer’s” life outside the job when he takes a vacation. In Asesinato Múltiple como Diversión Pública (Santana, 2014: 2538-2582; Id., 2011), Samuel, a prisoner in a high security facility, discloses personal information of the personnel working there, revealing them as “normal people”, making them vulnerable and subverting in those moments the power dynamic.

Santana’s discourse is clearly critical of power structures. The playwright does this with a refined use of symbolism, poetic devices, and wit and by centering conflicts around binary constructs with severely complex moral and ethical dilemmas: in Mirando al Tendido we see The Matador vs. The Bull under the colonialist binary of “civilized human vs. uncivilized animal” with the added “life and death” duality. Baño de Damas (Santana, 2003) portrays the age-old plight of man vs. woman while addressing issues of gender violence, reproductive rights, and LGBTQ+ visibility. Furthermore, in Elogio a la Tortura, Tiránicus, La Muerte de Alfredo Gris and Los Criminales (Santana, 2011) there is a constant negotiation of “submission vs. domination”. In the latter play, there is an added conflict of socioeconomic standing: “rich vs. poor”, and therefore, “superior vs. inferior” and their trustworthiness. The concept of justice and its application in a morally corrupt society is questioned throughout the play. His “corporate” plays El Ordenanza, La Empresa Perdona un Momento de Locura, and Asesinato Múltiple como Diversión Pública walk the fine line of the “sanity vs. insanity” spectrum, and they lean heavily into the sociopolitical issue of ‘individual vs. corporation or state; the latter usually defined as a faceless, almighty and ‘dematerialised’ institution, which in appearance is meant to remain unchallenged.

By placing his characters’ issues within two extremes, Santana manages to unapologetically confront the audience with its own values and belief systems and all the cultural, anthropological, and sociological implications that come with it. Through his writing, Santana provides the liminal space in which a society can reimagine and redefine itself on stage and that is what makes him relevant to this day and will allow his legacy to be carried forward.

*All translations by Kala Fuenmayor, unless otherwise noted.



[1] E.A. Moreno-Uribe, Teatro venezolano y colombiano para ver en Nueva York, in «El Espectador Venezolano», 14 June 2020, (accessed 5 May 2024).

[2] Private conversation between Kala Fuenmayor and Venezuelan theatre scholar and critic Leonardo Azparren Giménez (27 June 2022).

[3] Juana Sujo (1913-1961) was an Argentinian born actress, responsible for the professionalization of theatre and formalizing acting education in Venezuela. Currently one of the top acting schools in the country and one of few that offers a bachelor’s degree in acting carries her name.

[4] Rodolfo Santana interviewed by Italian National broadcasting channel Rai 2, June 1992, and with excerpts from rehearsals and performances (accessed 5 May 2024).

[5] Letter to Angelo Romagnoli (December 1992), private correspondence.

[6] L. Jesús González Cova, Con un concierto de la Orquesta Sinfónica Municipal de Caracas|Sobre las tablas del teatro Nacional dieron el último adiós a Rodolfo Santana, in «Correo del Orinoco», 23 October 2012, (accessed 5 May 2024).

[7] From a private conversation with Angelo Romagnoli (25 July 2023).

[8] Anonymous, Oran Mor/NTS’s The Company Will Overlook a Moment of Madness, in «Across The Arts», 10 February 2011, (accessed 5 May 2024).



L. Azparren Giménez (cura di), Clásicos del Teatro Venezolano. 3: Addenda, Caracas, Bid & Co. Editor, 2014.

L. Azparren Giménez, El realismo en el nuevo teatro venezolano, Caracas, Universidad Central de Venezuela, 2002.

H. Barker, Collected Plays: The power of the dog. The Europeans. Women beware women. Minna. Judith. Ego in Arcadia, vol. 3, New York, John Calder-Riverrun Press, 1990.

N. Caballero, Notas para Rodolfo Santana, Caracas, Ediciones MINCI, 2018.

L. Chesney, Rodolfo Santana, in L. Proaño Gómez e G. Geirola (a cura di), Antología de teatro latinoamericano (1950-2007), t. 13, Buenos Aires, CELCIT, 2017, pp. 190-194.

U. Chiti, Teatro: progetto “La terra e la memoria”, Roma, Gremese Editore, 1994.

M.I. Fornés, Terra Incognita, in «Theater», XXIV,  n. 2, 1993, pp. 99-111.

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A. Grunn, Rodolfo Santana su Baño de Damas y yo, in «Theatrón», XX,  n. 28, 2019, pp. 65-73.

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