Out of the Wings

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De profesión maternal (1997), Griselda Gambaro

English title: Mother by Trade
Date written: 1997
First publication date: 2002
First production date: 1999
Keywords: morality > judgement, identity > sexuality, family > mothers and daughters, history > memory, history > narrative, ideology > honour, power > inter-personal/game play, love

Sometimes the voice of blood is silent.  Or sings someone else’s song.

We begin with a recipe for melodrama: mother meets daughter forty years after she abandoned her as an infant; daughter discovers mother cohabiting with her lesbian partner of twenty-five years.  But this script resists the high emotion and comforting closure you could expect from such a premise; instead the play dramatises a stark process of truth and reconciliation between mother and daughter who are strangers to one another.   There are no tears, no moving embraces, no healing recognition of the relationship they’ve never had.  Rather, the unsayable is said by both sides, and with that the myth of maternal instinct is unflinchingly scrutinised. Yet though it promises to be hard won, the possibility of a real and demythologised relationship is gradually prised open.


In the opening scene we encounter two mature women, Matilde and Eugenia, a professional singer and her loyal partner sitting arm in arm on a sofa.  We realise that they are a long-standing lesbian couple who are facing the arrival of Matilde’s estranged daughter, Leticia, whom she has not seen for over forty years.  Matilde has written to Leticia and has invited her, offering to pay the expenses for the trip.  Leticia was neglected by Matilde as an infant and has lived with her father and his second wife all her life in another part of the country.

As they wait anxiously, the couple bicker, Matilde resisting Eugenia’s advice that she should be open about their gay relationship.  Very soon, Matilde is revealed to the audience to be a challenging character to live with or be related to - she is grotesquely egotistical and vain.  At the outset, her only concern is her own response to this reunion, not her daughter’s, let alone her partner’s.

Leticia is late and when she arrives, to Matilde’s horror, she mistakes Eugenia for her mother.  Eugenia ‘fits’ Leticia’s imagined version of her, showing that any kind of instinctual recognition is absent.  Matilde has no idea how to behave and becomes verbally incontinent, saying idiotic and insensitive things.  She struggles to find the words, unable to summon the apposite lines of the script she must utter, in order to play the role of ‘mother’.  ‘I am profoundly sorry for not having brought you up’, she says disingenuously, as if forgiveness could be granted instantaneously.  The jumbled justifications which follow this statement do nothing to repair the damage, only further aggravate things.  When Leticia tells her mother that she has no children, Matilde responds by saying ‘It’s better that way.  I know from experience.’

Eugenia, observing her partner’s disastrous blunderings, attempts to mediate, and translate what Matilde says into something more palatable.  Leticia, however, is apparently unmoved by Matilde’s provocative outbursts.  In fact, she behaves as if she were emotionally impervious, which only serves to escalate the destructiveness of her mother’s communications.  The pattern in which the two engage is that of mutual recrimination, exercising cruelty on one another and emphasising how, in every sense, each falls grossly short of the other’s expectations.

While Matilde does her best to sabotage the situation, Eugenia fights to rescue it.  Acting as mediator, she translates mother and daughter to one another and helps them out of a destructive pattern of recriminations and cruelty.  She begins to act as prompt to Matilde, feeding her the lines of the part of mother which she struggles to muster from within.   At the end of the play there is no possibility of Leticia’s forgiveness but there is a sense that naming the truth of Matilde’s neglect and the damage it caused has been therapeutic.  Hope, hard won, is prised open by Leticia’s poignant request:’ I’ll never forgive you.  But, please … (Quietly and intensely.) do what you can so that I can love you, so that I can love you …’

At the end of the play Leticia is able to name the woman who brought her into the world.  The last word of the play is hers as she looks to Matilde and says: ‘Mum’.

  • Gambaro, Griselda. 2002. Falta de modestia/Mi querida/De profesión maternal/Pedir demasiado/Lo que va dictando el sueño. Buenos Aires, Norma

Useful readings and websites
  • Gatto, Teresa. 2008. ‘Griselda Gambaro, De profesión maternal o la subjetividad nómade.’, Telondefondo: Revista de teoría y crítica teatral, 7, 1-7 (in Spanish)

Entry written by Gwendolen Mackeith. Last updated on 5 October 2010.

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