Out of the Wings

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Flores de papel (1968), Égon Wolff

English title: Paper Flowers
Date written: 1968
First publication date: 1979
First production date: 1975
Keywords: morality, violence > social, identity > class/social standing, identity > hierarchy, identity > gender, history > change/revolution, ideology > politics, ideology > morality, power > inter-personal/game play, love > desire

I haven’t said you should stay.  I’ve only said you don’t have to go.

A lonely woman accepts the offer of a taciturn vagrant to carry groceries from the supermarket back to her apartment.  When she invites him into her refined home, she begins an unexpected encounter with a man who is not what he claims to be.  Despite this man’s strange behaviour - his inexplicable and uncontrollable fits, and his impassioned and at times nonsensical conversation – Eva, in her lonely desperation, yearns for his companionship.  Here Égon Wolff masterfully orchestrates a compelling collision between a woman and a man, a past and a present and the disruption of a social order which is far more complex than we might think.


Eva is a middle-aged, middle-class lady who paints watercolours in the Botanical Garden to pass the time.  She is a childless divorcee, or spinster, who is lonely and vulnerable and becomes involved with a man who goes by the name of the ‘Hake’ (the predatory fish) when he carries home her groceries to her apartment.  At first, this simple act of kindness is not enough to capture her attention and she is keen for him to leave, fobbing him off with a tip, which he refuses to accept.  When he flatters her by telling her that he has observed her in the Botanical Garden, this draws her into an encounter with him.

The Hake tells Eva that two men, Miguel and ‘Birdy’, want to kill him and she takes pity, lamenting the hand life has dealt him.  At this point in the play, he is quite reticent while she is loquacious.  He is anxious to be accommodating in her home and he asks if various things bother her to which she replies: ‘No, why should it bother me?’.  This becomes a haunting refrain as the play unfolds.

At the end of the first scene, when Eva leaves the stage telling the Hake to ‘make himself at home’,  the audience is left alone with him and we witness a different side to this man.  He speaks to Eva’s canary in a violent and menacing way as he rattles its cage.

Eva returns to find the Hake making paper birds out of newspaper and he has cleaned the floor.  Eva goes into the kitchen and breaks a glass by accident, cutting her hand.  The Hake offers to dress the wound, although he is evidently made extremely uncomfortable by any physical contact with Eva.

At the beginning of the third scene night has passed and Eva has woken to find the Hake making her eggs for breakfast, although she didn’t request them.  She had locked her bedroom door overnight as a protection against the stranger she has brought into her home.  The Hake is more talkative than the day before and he seems more confident.  As he serves the eggs he plays the part of a French waiter, surprising Eva with his knowledge of the French language.  When she presses him about how a man who lives on the streets could know French, he diverts the conversation, thus evading the question.    The Hake then distracts Eva by teaching her how to cast shadows of animals on the wall.

There is a certain sexual tension between Eva and the Hake.  Her loneliness causes her to yearn for him but he behaves as though anything remotely akin to intimacy would somehow be transgressive or taboo.  At one point the Hake tells Eva that he does not feel comfortable in her home dressed as he is, and requests a pair of trousers.  She agrees to go out and buy a pair, fitting the description of his request.  When she returns he is outraged that she has bought the wrong kind of trousers.  The Hake is like a child who cannot bear his mother not to have delivered the right prop for his fantasy game.  Eva is knocked back by the Hake’s violent disappointment.

The Hake proceeds to behave more and more destructively in a way that Eva is unable to contain or limit.  He rearranges the furniture, opens the door of the canary’s cage, allowing the canary to escape, and then kills it.  He is scathing of Eva’s taste in furniture with a puzzlingly snobbish hostility for someone who purports not to have known any privilege or luxury in life.  Language also begins to break down and meaning is lost, along with a sense of the possibility of love between two people.  Eva has made an advance and exposed her vulnerability and she has been sorely rejected.

When the Hake has reached an unbearable level of hostility, Eva asks him to leave.  He remains non-reactive, then he says rich people give up easily, that they ease their conscience by giving something up for Lent.

In the last scene Eva is dressed as a bride, and there are strange and paradoxical slogans, some derived from Christianity, scrawled on the paper which is strewn all around the stage.  The Hake has honed in on Eva’s Achilles heel, that she’d never get a ‘second chance’ at love.  Here he mocks the hopes which he has raised in her, and then cruelly dashed.

The Hake begins to rip off panels of the dress accentuating what Eva all too keenly feels – her aging body inside the dress.  This time it is Eva who is shivering, trembling, as if she has contracted the horrible spasms the Hake suffered earlier in the play.

Love is denigrated by the Hake: ‘Love is a broken bridge with a broken tooth’, he says , ‘with a broken crank that whirls beyond its four confines breaking heads!  Love is a dog with three feet!  A tramp with only one hand and two bananas.’

All meaning is lost now.   It is the primitive rhythm of the language which is what takes shape, reaching a sexual climax at the end of the play.

The Hake’s last speech is a prelude to leading Eva back to the dark lair of the river:

Before we arrive there, I think I should inform you about the geography of the river, of the dangers it offers.  There are, out there, some dangerous depths, where on nights of the full moon – when the river flows swollen with broken furniture – many people, falling, have broken their necks.

Eva and the Hake exit as a ragged couple, as a bewildered and dejected bride and her groom.

Critical response

Flores de papel won the Casa de las Américas prize in 1970 and is considered by many to be Wolff’s masterpiece.  It has been widely translated and performed internationally.

  • Dauster, Frank, Lyday, Leon and Woodyard, George, eds. 1979. 9 Dramaturgos hispanoamericanos: Antología del teatro hispanoamericano del siglo XX , pp. 145 – 221. Ontario, Girol Books

Useful readings and websites
  • Gann, Myra S. 1989. 'Meaning and Metaphor in Flores de papel', Latin American Theatre Review, 22.2, 31-6

  • López, Daniel. 1978. ‘Ambiguity in Flores de papel’, Latin American Theatre Review, 12.1, 43-50

  • Taylor, Diana. 1984. ‘Art and Anti-Art in Égon Wolff’s Flores de papel’, Latin American Theatre Review, 18.1, 65-8

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

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BenBollig wrote 16 Feb 2011, 1:01 p.m.
Flores Glad to have access to information about this play for an English-speaking audience.
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