The Rooftop

Photo: from original publication of La Azotea

By Rafael Guizado

Translated by Gigi Guizado

Volume 9, Issue 2 (Fall 2022)

Translating Rafael Guizado usually presents me with two key challenges, both of which I encountered while translating La Azotea/The Rooftop. The first is acquiring the source text. Sharing a last name and family tree with the author offered fewer insights into his playwriting than one might imagine. Although I am Rafael Guizado’s granddaughter, we never met. He died in 1984, shortly before I was reunited with my estranged father. Wisely, my father introduced me to his father’s masterpiece, Complemento, as an icebreaker which we read aloud together.  It was through reading this poetic play about love, trust, and family that I spent my first quality time with my father, and learned that my late grandfather had been a playwright. Little more was said about it though. More emphasis was placed on my grandfather’s career as a diplomat. A decade later, when my father passed away, I inherited a few family photographs, an unpublished manuscript and three books: the copy of Complemento we had read together, Las Edades del Hombre and Renuncia Ministerial (Cuentos Politicos), all penned by my grandfather. I had no indication that his catalog extended further.

In 2015, I felt compelled to translate Complemento and this led to researching the history of the play. At that time, there was no comprehensive bibliography of Guizado’s body of work, so I started a database of the references I found online. Worldcat was a great find with fifteen titles listed. I was amazed to find so many.  Over the years I have located some of his publications and begun translating them. Finding the reference for La Azotea, locating a library which held the script in its collection, and then securing a copy was more challenging than the linguistic aspect of translating this piece which premiered as a radio play. Thankfully, the 2022 exhibition on Rafael Guizado by ( has gathered most of what is known about him into one handy site with links to many publications for future reference.

Upon receiving the scanned text from the University of Texas at Austin Benson Latin American Collection, I was thrilled by the art deco drawing by Martínez Delgado which accompanies the script, depicting its two characters and setting. I soon found, however, that due to the layout with the artwork at the top of the page like a rooftop, and the text beneath it in four columns like a newspaper, the font was tiny. Also, the pages were scanned sideways. Ultimately, I printed it out and translated it with a magnifying glass. Describing it now, I see how appropriate an image that is for the detective work that went into this translation.

The remaining challenge has been characteristic of all of Rafael Guizado’s writing that I’ve had the pleasure of reading so far.  It is tricky to capture his poetic style, filled with elevated language, and have it still sound natural in English, for a modern day audience. Two separate readings by very talented actors were essential in arriving at this final version of the translation. Passages like the following inspire me to translate and share my grandfather’s words.  I can only hope that I have conveyed them well and that through an actor’s instrument they will resonate as intended.

“Sí mírela, fíjese cómo se mueve, vive, brinca, cambia de colores y de aspectos, y siempre es la misma. Y además, es como el espejo de uno mismo. Si está usted alegre, mira las calles y las gentes afanosas; si usted está triste, ve los techos grises y en ellos encuentra una correspondencia a su tristeza.”

Rafael Guizado (1909–1984) served as private secretary to former Colombian President Eduardo Santos and as Acting Chargé d ’Affaires of the Permanent Colombian Delegation to the League of Nations. In 1940, he founded Colombia’s national radio, La Radiofusora Nacional. There he created a prestigious radio theatre which promoted Colombian authors and broadcast a new wave of original works. The radio theatre became “a true school of theatre art” and is considered “the first antecedent of contemporary theatrical activity…due to the undoubted influence it had on the development of theatrical activity after 1940”. It “can be considered the cradle of contemporary theatrical movement in Colombia” (Gerardo Valencia, El Tiempo, Nov 6, 1976). Guizado experimented with new forms of modern theatre. His plays were adapted directly from the radio to the stage of the national theatre. The 1941 season, which presented several of his works, set a new literary standard in Colombian theatre. “It is, above all, the quality of [Guizado’s] dialogue that makes him an important playwright.” (Theodore Apstein, El Tiempo, April 28, 1946)

Gigi Guizado is an actor, writer, and translator. She performs in the audio drama We’re Alive: Descendants and is The Asylum Theatre’s Resident Playwright. Excerpts from her translations Complemento; Sonata en la playa (Instituto Colombiano de Cultura, 1973) and Scherzo (Diálogo de la Estatua) (Editorial Minerva, 1949) by Rafael Guizado have been published by Another Chicago Magazine and Asymptote Journal, respectively.  Both translations have been produced in Las Vegas by The Asylum Theatre. Her translation and adaptation of a scene from El Concierto (La Habana Eds., 2004) by Ulises Rodríguez Febles is featured on Performing International Plays. The Therapist, her translation of La Terapeuta by Gabriela Yepes, is published by Inti Press (2022). Her poetry has appeared in The Emerson Review, Rogue Agent Journal, Salamander Ink Magazine, among others.

The Rooftop

By Rafael Guizado

Translated by Gigi Guizado


Scene 1

The high rooftop of a modern building. Maria is leaning out on the railing, looking out over the city. Jaime enters through the door. He breathes heavily, takes a few steps, and stops upon seeing the woman. He makes a gesture of disappointment and says to himself:

JAIME: Hmm, what a disaster! I can’t even be alone here…Now that young woman over there is going to talk to me and tell me about her life, and how it’s such a clear day, and what a beautiful view this rooftop has, and how tall the building is, and how frightening it is to lean out…oof, what a disappointment!

(He pauses. Takes a few steps. Coughs.)

Now she makes like she doesn’t know I’m here…and she’s already seen me…she looked at me when I arrived.


Nothing, she doesn’t move, and I can’t unwind; jeez, a person only comes to this floor to be alone and at peace and it turns out there’s a woman here looking at the landscape.

(Pause. He comes closer to her.)

Good morning.

MARIA: Good morning.

(Very dry)

JAIME: Beautiful morning, isn’t it?


JAIME: Sure is a beautiful panorama, isn’t it?


JAIME: It’s a very tall building, don’t you think?

MARIA: Very.

JAIME: Doesn’t it give you vertigo to lean out like that?


JAIME: And…what are you doing here?

MARIA: Nothing, and you?

JAIME: The same.



JAIME: One, two, three, four…

MARIA: What are you doing?

JAIME: I’m counting the cars that pass by that corner.


JAIME: No reason. When I was there, exactly on that corner, surely you were here, and you saw me, without knowing that later I would be right beside you.

MARIA: Possibly.

JAIME: That’s the way life is! If it hadn’t occurred to me to come…

MARIA: What.

JAIME: I wouldn’t have met you. And think of it, if I were a serious man, I’d be in my office right now. Ah! Fortunately, the city hasn’t been able to get me yet.

MARIA: What do you mean?

JAIME: I’ll explain. The city is like a seemingly attractive, terrible monster.  You come up and smile at it, but when it has you at its fingertips, pow, it claws you and wolfs you down. That’s why, for it to not eat me alive, I leave it once in a while, I go to the country, or I come up to the rooftop, and from here I show my contempt and insult her.

(He gestures.)

MARIA: The opposite happens to me. I love the city, I’m enamored with it, and I come to this height to see her: I make believe that I know her, and I caress her and lull her, as if she were a child. She’s so beautiful, and varied, and happy…

JAIME: You think so?

MARIA: Yes, look at her, notice how she moves, lives, frolics, changes colors and aspects, and is always the same. And also, she’s like a mirror of oneself. If you are happy, look at the busy streets and people; and if you’re sad, look at the grey roofs and in them you will find a kinship with your sadness.

JAIME: You say such beautiful things.

MARIA: Don’t you feel the same?

JAIME: Now, yes, beside you, I am discovering the soul of an angel inside the monster. Tell me, what is your name?

MARIA: María.

JAIME: My name is Jaime.

MARIA: Very nice name.

JAIME: And…what do you do? You don’t spend your whole life up here…do you?

MARIA: No, I work, but I’m on vacation…


MARIA: And since I don’t have money to go sightseeing, well I come to the rooftop and start to imagine that I walk through the streets, enter all the homes, and go to all the places.

JAIME: You will be tired.

MARIA: At each house I invent a story, a floorplan, some people living…

JAIME: Jeez, that’s ingenious; do you work for the census?

MARIA: No, in an accounting office.

JAIME: For good reason.

MARIA: There, in the middle of that block, lives a widow.

JAIME: Where?

MARIA: There.

JAIME: The house with red tiles?

MARIA: No, the cement one.

JAIME: Ah, and how did you know that…

MARIA: No, I imagine…

JAIME: Sure, I get it. And do you know who works in that office that has a window with a green curtain?


JAIME: The curtain has an ink stain. In the room there is a table, on the table there’s an inkwell, in the inkwell ink, next to the inkwell a blotter, and under the blotter some papers, and in front of the papers a chair and seated in the chair is a man with the face   of an ogre. He’s my boss.


JAIME: María!

MARIA: What?

JAIME: Nothing. I say: María and repeat María! María! I think the whole city is populated with Marías. They look like you, they’re soft, pretty, fresh, smiling, they’re…Marías…


MARIA: It’s time to go down now.


MARIA: It’s very late.

JAIME: No, no, finish taking your walk; now, take the tram, go up in that block full of potholes, that’s it, pay five, give a twenty, get back fifteen, -one never gets as much they give- a woman tries to push in on top of you, at last you get comfortable, (imitates the noise of the tram in motion with his mouth) have to go and come back, it takes at least ten minutes.

MARIA: And where am I going?

JAIME: Where? Wait a minute…to…to…there, in that plaza there’s a man waiting for you.

MARIA: A man?

JAIME: Yes, a nice young man, a worker, serious, with a bright future, even though his boss doesn’t think so…a man you didn’t know ten minutes ago. How much time you’ve wasted in life by not knowing this gentleman! But there he is willing to love you, and forgotten by everyone and everything.

MARIA: And what is his name?

JAIME: Hmm…I think…it looks like his name is…Jaime. Yes, he’s not a famous man, but he’s never been in trouble with the law. Nowadays, that’s a recommendation. He’s not rich or brilliant, he’s not   a hero, he’s just Jaime. The guy who goes down the street, goes up to the rooftop, smokes a cigarette, buys a newspaper, smiles at hearing a story, goes to the movies every week, shines his shoes every third day, buys his suits in monthly installments, sighs for twenty-eight days each month for two solemn dates: the first and the fifteenth.

MARIA: There are many Jaimes among the people we see from here.

JAIME: Yes, there are many. If it weren’t for them, the city would be worthless. It’s soul is made of the Marías and Jaimes…they’re the ones who know it thoroughly: nothing escapes them. Ah! -says Jaime- they’re gonna tear down that old house…

MARIA: Look -responds María- they’re building on this site.

JAIME: They’ve changed the bus route…

MARIA: They got rid of the grocery store that was on the main road.

JAIME: Will we see the arrival of the wedding party?

MARIA: We will see the dance let out?

JAIME: There is a demonstration!

MARIA: There’s a parade of soldiers!

JAIME: Jamie and María are everywhere.

MARIA: Everywhere.

JAIME: And one time, one time, they meet alone, on top of a building which seems made exclusively for them…and they realize that every day they’ve seen each other, and they’ve always thought about one another without knowing each other…

MARIA: In that house there is an empty flat, it’s very small…

JAIME: For two people?

MARIA: Yes… just for two, for two people. I’ve never wanted to suppose they would lease it… I have applied for it… a small living room, dining room, a bedroom… bathroom… kitchen, pantry… it’s nice… so nice.

JAIME: Could you…would it be possible…would you reserve it for me? I think I’m going to need it soon…

MARIA: It’s not expensive and it’s brand new…

(half beat pause)

JAIME: I earn sixteen hundred a month…

MARIA: Twenty-nine hundred.

JAIME: No, sixteen hundred…

MARIA: But they pay me thirteen…

(They both smile)


One thought on “The Rooftop

  1. Pingback: The Rooftop Gets Published! – Gigi Guizado

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