The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

A two-act play with an epilogue, Short Eyes takes place in a New York prison. The play’s action covers the course of one day in a cell-block dayroom of the prison, and the audience is introduced to the grind of prison life, the characters sharing the dayroom, and the relationships among these prisoners. The play opens with a traditional roll call, as the prisoners’ disembodied voices call out their locations for dayroom assignments. As Ice, Omar, Longshoe, El Raheem, Paco, Juan, and Cupcakes enter the “B” side of the dayroom, the play begins to distinguish among their characters and establishes their relationships with one another. The inmates alternatively argue, play cards, fight, “jam,” cajole one another, and familiarize the audience with prison slang, such as “plexes” (psychological complexes) and “on the help” (a prison job).

Such an apparently “normal” day is interrupted as Clark Davis enters, a white man with whom Longshoe initially attempts a connection based on race. Longshoe explains the complex “protection” network among white, black, and Hispanic prisoners, attempting to advise Davis about survival. However, he is horrified and nearly violent when he discovers that Davis is a “short eyes,” prison slang for a pedophile. All the inmates exit and return to their cells for the count, while Juan remains behind, cleaning, with Davis. Left with Juan, Davis makes a full confession of his pedophilia, and Juan responds with disgust. The others return to harass Davis, and the act closes as they force Davis’s head into the toilet while he screams.

Act 2 opens thirty minutes later, with the same group of inmates reading, writing, playing chess, and exercising. Davis is not in the dayroom but has been called for a lineup. The clowning and discussion continues as Longshoe shares “heist” (drugs) with several of his fellow inmates. As Cupcakes leaves to shower, Mr. Nett arrives “on the gate” to...

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Short Eyes Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The staging and setting of Short Eyes contributes to its message of a trapped and devolving society, as the audience sees the gate, a table and chairs, the toilet center stage, and the catwalk above. The prisoners are constantly observed and observing, and their “cage” allows for no privacy and only brief escape. Piñero uses the catwalk well for movement and important “ad lib” moments, such as roll call and sick call. The toilet becomes the focal point of the play several times: for example, in Davis’s first violation or in Longshoe’s illness.

Piñero’s personal experience with prison life allows the play to re-create prison dialogue accurately, again contributing to the sense that the play stages both “another world” and our own world. Phrases such as “short eyes,” and “stuff” (a homosexual) not only add verisimilitude but also suggest the need the inmates have to control their confined space through their own particular language. In addition, the play unblinkingly stages the profanity and violent sexual language that even the most realistic dramas usually avoid. The result is a powerful window into a disturbing world far too similar to the “outside” world for audiences to ignore.

Even as it clearly stages a modern experience, the play adheres to dramatic unities of time and place and thus evokes the oldest Greek dramas of Aeschylus and Sophocles. The final act, with its counsel, its performance of mob...

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Short Eyes Bibliography

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Hentoff, Nat. “Piñero: ‘I Wanted to Survive.’” New York Times, May 5, 1974, p. 8.

Maffi, Mario. “The Nuyorican Experience in the Plays of Pedro Pietri and Miguel Piñero.” In Cross-Cultural Studies: American, Canadian, and European Literatures, 1945-1985, edited by Mirko Jurak. Bled, Slovenia, Yugoslavia: Symposium on Contemporary Literatures and Cultures of the United States of America and Canada, 1988.

Piñero, Miguel. Outrageous One-Act Plays by Miguel Piñero. Houston: Arte Público Press, 1986.

Platizky, Roger S. “Humane Vision in Miguel Piñero’s Short Eyes.” Americas Review 19, no. 1 (1991): 83-91.