Out of the Wings

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Quince peldaños (2000), Gracia Morales Ortiz

English title: 15 Steps
Date written: 2000
First publication date: 2000
First production date: 3 October 2001
Keywords: love > relationships, family > marriage, identity, power, ideology > politics, ideology > morality, violence > social

Three characters wait to be called on a journey. As they wait, they make their own personal journeys through fear, alienation and desire. Each one of them knows there is darkness out there, but none of them wants to confront it.


In a strange waiting area, a married couple keep themselves busy before going on a trip. Andres methodically inspects their suitcases, making sure they have brought everything. His wife Julia sits at the top of a flight of 15 stairs, scanning the horizon with her binoculars. Julia claims she can see the sea, although Andres dismisses this, unconvinced by his much-younger wife’s sense of geography.

Andres and Julia do not know many details about their forthcoming trip. They only know that they are going to a place called Tárheos and that they must wait until their number is called. Andres rarely looks up at his wife as she sits atop her 15 steps. He is more interested in examining his large map, and gets exasperated by Julia’s impatience and her inability to remember the name of their destination. But while Julia may appear bored and naïve, at times her thoughts trail off and another Julia is heard speaking offstage. This offstage Julia sounds much more serious than her onstage counterpart. She describes a woman – who looks much like herself – sitting in a bare room. This woman looks dirty, yet despite her dishevelment, she appears calm. Offstage Julia describes another ominous scene. She talks about desperate people coming off boats, the bodies of those who did not survive the journey littering the shoreline.

Andres does not hear the dark scenes described by offstage Julia. They contrast with the light conversational tone of the Julia onstage. Yet this sunnier Julia does have an awareness of some kind of trouble going on outside the waiting room. When the couple are joined by Elias, a young student, it is Julia who knows most about arrests at his university. Elias admits that he has attended illegal student demonstrations and meetings, but only out of curiosity. He insists that he is not a member of any anti-establishment group. Elias wants to know why Julia is sitting on a set of stairs. Andres explains that Julia gets ill on the ground. He also says that the number of steps has mysteriously increased over time, so that Julia is now even higher and further away than she used to be.

Elias leaves for a moment. While he is gone, the couple talk about when they were happier together. Julia tries to get Andres to open up about his feelings for her. She starts to move down the steps. The offstage Julia talks about needing to be touched. But Andres does not hear this voice. He tries to ignore his onstage wife’s comments, distracting himself by checking and rechecking their suitcases. Julia, who has only moved down a few steps, gives up and returns to the top of the stairs.

Andres leaves the waiting area to look for clock batteries. While he is away, Elias returns. He and Julia talk about the recent arrests. Ominously, offstage Julia talks about drugged prisoners being dropped from the sky into the sea. She also describes the horrors of electric shock torture. Onstage Julia suddenly fears for young Elias. She urges him to flee, to disguise himself in one of Andres’ suits so that he does not look like a student. Elias wants to know why Julia knows so much about the arrests. He goes to climb up her steps. Julia warns him not to, telling him about the horrors she can see from her vantage point. Undeterred, Elias constructs his own set of steps from some chairs and climbs them. Julia is dismayed to learn that Elias cannot see any of the things that she claims to see from her steps.

Elias gets down, more and more intrigued by Julia. Looking up at her, he asks her what she is running from. He talks about his desire for her. In response to all this, Julia simply returns to the issue of Elias being a student at risk of detection. She suggests that Elias might change his name – perhaps to ‘Andres’ – so that he can avoid arrest as a student dissenter. Andres himself returns, and as Elias observes the couple he becomes exasperated with them. He accuses them of trying to make him just like them – more interested in holiday destinations than the real world. He reserves his most stinging criticism for Julia, calling her a coward for sitting above on her steps rather than properly engaging with what is going on around her.

Elias takes off Andres’ suit, puts his own clothes back on and leaves. Through her binoculars, Julia watches him. She is shocked when, just as he is about to escape, Elias turns back and is caught. Andres is more concerned about whether or not his wife has taken her medication – a question that makes us doubt everything that Julia claims to have seen.

After watching Elias get arrested, Julia drops her binoculars to the ground and starts coming down the stairs, very slowly. She says Elias was right to accuse her of apathy, now realising the futility of watching everything from the top of the 15 steps. Andres tries not to listen. Finally, Julia reaches the floor. At this point, the couple’s number is called. Andres is excited – they can now go on holiday. But for Julia, things have changed. In a brief moment of intimacy, she kisses her husband. Then, she leaves, going off in the same direction as Elias. Andres goes to gather his suitcases, but realises he has Julia’s binoculars. Slowly, tentatively, he climbs up the 15 steps and looks through them. Music starts, and a series of images appear. We see towns ravaged by floods, politicians, student demonstrations. Lastly, we see a woman – calm yet dishevelled – sitting in a small room. The woman looks very like Julia.


When Julia finds out that Elias is interested in poetry, she quotes the first few lines of Los Nueve Monstruos (The Nine Monsters) by the Peruvian poet César Vallejo:

So, unfortunately

pain grows in the world at all times,

it grows at thirty minutes per second, step by step,

and the nature of pain is twice the pain… (Vallejo)

The images projected on a screen at the end of the play call to mind various natural and manmade disasters. The dark scenes that offstage Julia describes are also reminiscent of real-life events, such as when prisoners were drugged and thrown out of planes during Argentina’s Dirty War (1976-1983).

Critical response

The play won the Marqués de Bradomín prize in 2000. It was runner-up for the Miguel Romero Esteo prize in 2001. In Gracia Morales’s own response to the play, she talks about how the three characters journey into themselves, questioning their beliefs and reconsidering how to connect with the world around them. Morales recalls how she reflected these interior struggles through silences and ambiguous gestures – leaving it to the audience to interpret characters’ glances, movements and pauses (Morales 2001).

  • Morales, Gracia. 2000. Quince peldaños. Online edition on the Remiendo Teatro website, http://www.remiendoteatro.com/quincepeldtxt.htm [accessed November 2011] (Online Publication)

  • Morales, Gracia. 2001. ‘Quince peldaños’. In Colección Premio Miguel Romero Esteo 1: Dámaris Matos, ‘Cuaderno de bitácora’; Gracia Morales, ‘Quince peldaños’; Sergio Rubio, ‘Mala vida’. Sevilla, Consejería de Cultura

Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 12 November 2011.

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