In 1948, Jean Genet, arrested for the 10th time for burglary, had been condemned to life imprisonment. By this time, his salacious autobiographical novels had gained him enough notoriety among the underground literati that such luminaries as Gide, Cocteau, and Sartre successfully petitioned the French government for his release. After their intervention, he turned from writing prose for the fugitive and solitary reveries of his novel readers to writing for the stage, which he helped transform into an equally dim-lit and dream-like forum. Deathwatch was his first play. Three prisoners confront each other in a small cell and jockey for a place in the prison's pecking order. They are only as good as the stories they tell, and the scars and tattoos that prove them. Green Eyes, a murderer soon to be condemned, sulks and explodes by turns with an unpredictable rage. His act has imbued him with a saintly nimbus within the inverted moral calculus of the jail cell.
Lefranc, a shrewd-eyed, small-time con artist, manipulates others with his smooth talk and ability to write letters for them. He is scheduled to go free in only a few days. Maurice, a petty thief, uses his good looks to get what he wants. While compulsively egging others on, he remains a coward