Out of the Wings

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Flor de Otoño (1972), José María Rodríguez Méndez

English title: Autumn Flower
Date written: 1972
First publication date: 1974
First production date: 1982
Keywords: family, family > parents and children, identity > class/social standing, identity, identity > sexuality, identity > gender cross dressing, society, love > friendship, violence > murder, ideology > politics

Lluiset is a respectable young lawyer – the apple of his mother’s eye. But Lluiset has a secret second life. At night he performs as the flamboyant cabaret star, Autumn Flower. There is only so long, however, that Lluiset can keep both of his lives separate.


Lluiset comes from a highly-respected family in 1930s Barcelona. As a young lawyer, he is adored by his mother – the widow Doña Nuria. Doña Nuria is a formidable woman, proud of her family name and of her son’s achievements. As the play begins, Doña Nuria’s large home is raided by the police. A drag star – La Asturianita – has been murdered in the red light district of the city. Lluiset has been implicated in the crime, much to the delight of the local press, who salivate over the possible scandal.

Never easily daunted, Doña Nuria staunchly defends her son’s reputation. A family meeting is called, at which a whole host of Lluiset’s uncles and aunts debate – rather ineffectually – what to do about the situation. For many of them, the idea that Lluiset has frequented the city’s red light district is unthinkable. They find it equally impossible to believe that he knows any drag artists. Yet this is exactly the case, because Lluiset – respected lawyer and beloved son – has a secret life. He has spent many nights in the clubs of Barcelona’s seedier neighbourhoods. Not only this, but Lluiset has an alter ego – Autumn Flower. As Autumn Flower, Lluiset dresses up effeminately in top hat and tails, very like Marlene Dietrich. La Asturianita’s death has left an opening for an act at the Bataclan cabaret club. And so, while his mother, aunts and uncles debate how to clear Lluiset’s name, Autumn Flower steps out into the Barcelona night, ready to dazzle the crowds at the Bataclan.

Autumn Flower arrives at the Bataclan in great style. He is accompanied by his dandyish friend, Ricard, and Surroca, a former boxer. The club is packed and Autumn Flower is a huge success. But not everyone likes the performance. One man sits glowering throughout, surrounded by menacing henchmen. This man was very, very fond of La Asturianita. He suspects that Autumn Flower may have had a hand in ‘her’ murder. Unaware of this, Autumn Flower flirts with him. They dance, while the man tries to find out what exactly Autumn Flower knows about the crime. Ricard and Surroca can only look on nervously as their drunk friend manages to enrage the man and his henchmen. A fight breaks out and Autumn Flower is injured by La Asturianita’s former boyfriend. The police descend on the scene. Fearful that Lluiset’s real identity might be discovered, Ricard and Surroca bundle him out of the club.

Lluiset is injured and drunk. Unable to go to the police, his friends seek help at an army barracks. Given Lluiset’s rather strange appearance, Surroca and Ricard pretend to the soldiers that he is simply an eccentric aristocrat. The pretence is difficult to maintain, however, since Lluiset is overly melodramatic about his injuries and flirts with the soldiers. Eventually, a nurse is summoned. While they wait for their friend to be treated, Ricard and Surroca steal weapons from the barracks. They, along with Lluiset, are part of the city’s revolutionary moment, and the stolen weapons will be invaluable if and when an uprising occurs.

The huge fight at the Bataclan club has not gone unnoticed by the press. They now report that a cabaret star called Autumn Flower is the prime suspect in the murder of La Asturianita. Unaware that Autumn Flower and Lluiset are one and the same person, the press also prints an apology to the young man. Once again, Lluiset’s aunts and uncles gather while Doña Nuria triumphantly reads out the effuse apology. She is not completely happy, however, since Lluiset has not been seen for days. He is hiding from his family so he does not have to explain his injuries to them. Ricard pays Doña Nuria a visit to reassure her that Lluiset is safe and well. Doña Nuria tells Ricard just how worried she is that Lluiset works too hard, and asks him if there is any particular girl in her son’s life. Ricard’s replies are charming but evasive, as he gives nothing away about Lluiset’s eccentric and dramatic double life.

Lluiset, Surroca and Ricard end up in a workers’ cooperative bar. Here, they hire some men to give La Asturianita’s boyfriend a beating in revenge for injuring Lluiset. While they wait for the men to return, they are joined by a group of students. Full of revolutionary zeal, the students claim that the package they throw between one another is in fact a bomb. Indeed, outside there are signs of unrest. Police Civil Guards enter the bar, suspicious of the gathering. They laugh at the students’ claim that their package contains a bomb. One of the guards nonchalantly throws the package outside, at which point it explodes. The commotion sparks off a gun battle between the revolutionaries inside the bar – including Lluiset and his friends – and the state police. The revolutionaries are easily overpowered, and Lluiset, Ricard and Surroca are arrested.

The three men are sentenced to death. The press and the magistrates condemn them for a whole list of crimes and perceived crimes, including anarchy, homosexuality and immorality. The men wait in their prison cell to be summoned to a firing squad at the port. Just before he leaves, however, Lluiset gets a surprise visit from his mother. Doña Nuria is visibly upset. She claims to believe that Lluiset and his friends are leaving on a boat to Mexico. Doña Nuria has packed her son a suitcase. Inside, she has included a lipstick and some perfume, suggesting that she has accepted her son’s double life. Doña Nuria bids Lluiset farewell, promising to follow him to ‘Mexico’ one day. Lluiset is led out to join the other prisoners. We hear the sound of the firing squad, just as a ship’s departure horn sounds. Proudly and bravely, Doña Nuria waves to the sea.


The play is loosely based on the life of an actual cabaret drag star and revolutionary who lived in Barcelona in the 1920s and 1930s.

Critical response

Before the play had been performed on stage, it was made into a film in 1978 entitled Un hombre llamado Flor de Otoño (A Man Called Autumn Flower). This was one of the first Spanish films to tackle the issue of homosexuality. Because of censorship in Spain under Franco (who died in 1975), the play itself was not performed until 1982. After this production, the play was largely ignored by theatre companies, possibly because it is relatively difficult to stage given its many locations. When it was revived in 2003, the play was well received by critics. Many critics decried the fact that it had been ignored for so long, lamenting ‘the lack of recognition accorded to a writer who has made a unique contribution in challenging the historical and cultural amnesia of the nation’ (Thompson 2007: 10).

Lluiset’s behaviour – dressing up as Autumn Flower and rebelling against his bourgeois upbringing – is seen by some as a reflection of the playwright’s own dissatisfaction with mainstream Spanish culture and society. As Michael Thompson puts it, the play as a whole is a ‘gesture of defiance and a demand for freedom, both personal and collective’ (Thompson 2007: 169).

Michael Thompson also talks about the ambiguity surrounding just how much Doña Nuria actually knows about Lluiset’s double life in the course of the play. He notes how, in the end, Doña Nuria’s subtle acknowledgement of her son’s alter ego and her dignified pretence that he is leaving for Mexico transforms her from a ‘shallow, puppet-like caricature into a genuinely tragic figure who sympathizes with Lluiset’s rebellion’ (2007: 163-4).

  • Thompson, Michael. 2007. Performing Spanishness: History, Cultural Identity and Censorship in the Theatre of José María Rodríguez Méndez. Bristol and Chicago, Intellect

Further information

Photographs and information in Spanish about a number of productions are available at http://www.madridteatro.eu/teatr/teatro/teatro140.htm [accessed November 2011].

The characters in the play speak both Castilian and Catalan.

  • Rodríguez Méndez, José María. 1974. ‘Flor de Otoño’, Primer Acto 173: 22-47

  • Rodríguez Méndez, José María. 1979. Bodas que fueron famosas del Pingajo y la Fandanga; Flor de Otoño, ed. José Martín Recuerdo. Madrid, Cátedra

  • Rodríguez Méndez, José María. 2005. ‘Flor de Otoño’. In Teatro escogido, vol. II. Madrid, Asociación de Autores de Teatro

  • Rodríguez Méndez, José María. 2007. Flor de Otoño. Alicante, Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, http://www.cervantesvirtual.com/obra/flor-de-otono--0/ [accessed November 2011] (Online Publication)

Useful readings and websites
  • Thompson, Michael. 2007. Performing Spanishness: History, Cultural Identity and Censorship in the Theatre of José María Rodríguez Méndez. Bristol and Chicago, Intellect

Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 1 December 2011.

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