Out of the Wings

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Origami (c.2006), Carlos Be

English title: Origami
Date written: c. 2006
First publication date: 2007
First production date: 2010
Keywords: family, family > parents and children, power, power > inter-personal/game play, power > intimidation, power > use and abuse, love, love > relationships, love > friendship, identity

Life is like origami. The paths and decisions we make are like paper folds, giving shape to our lives. Some of these shapes are ugly, some are beautiful, and some are both at the same time.


Aldo lives with his mother Claudia. They have a close – sometimes sexual –  relationship. The pair spend most of their time shut away from the rest of the world. Claudia is particularly reclusive, relying heavily on her attractive and more confident son. Claudia and Aldo earn their living making origami shapes. Most recently, they have been commissioned to make books created solely out of intricate origami.

Claudia and Aldo used to have a housekeeper, Dalia. She has apparently run away with a lover, although there is a sense that she may never have left the house. Perhaps, the play at times suggests, she had an affair with Aldo and was harmed by a jealous Claudia. Whatever happened to her, Aldo and Claudia need a new housekeeper. And so, Dora – a friend of Dalia’s – enters their lives. Dora is a breath of fresh air in the claustrophobic house. In contrast to Claudia’s nervousness, Dora is initially confident. She is mildly amused by the idiosyncrasies of the strange house she now works in. There is, for example, a white door she is forbidden to open. Dora gleefully imagines all manner of things existing behind this door.

Dora gradually becomes friendly with Claudia. She sees how domineering Aldo can be towards his mother and begins to feel sorry for the older woman. When Dora notices cigarette burns on Claudia’s body, she concludes that Aldo must be mistreating his mother. Dora calls her boyfriend Lenzo – a doctor – to examine Claudia. Lenzo initially shares Dora’s concerns. His opinion changes, however, when he meets Aldo. In confidence, Aldo tells Lenzo that he is very worried about his mother, who he says is gravely ill. Lenzo warns Dora against Claudia, concerned that the older woman is manipulating his girlfriend into disliking Aldo. Yet, just like an origami shape, there are different sides to Dora’s relationship with Aldo. On the one hand, she finds him domineering and deeply unpleasant. Yet on the other, she finds him very attractive. In fact, Dora confesses to Aldo that they knew each other as schoolchildren. Aldo’s father taught Dora and used to show his class how to make little origami shapes. Dora reminds Aldo that they shared a first kiss when they were little. For Dora, the memory of this innocent childhood kiss is special. But Aldo insouciantly laughs off the incident, and even distorts it by claiming he hated Dora as a child. Aldo’s arrogance intensifies. He accuses Dora of wanting to sleep with him, just like Dalia. Finally, Dora has had enough of the unpredictable Aldo and his nervy mother. And so, she decides to leave the house for good.

Aldo is unconcerned about Dora’s decision to leave. He makes a half-hearted attempt to get her to stay, but she refuses. Claudia, however, does not react at all well to the news that Dora is leaving. While Aldo is upstairs, she attacks Dora and tells her that Dalia is behind the mysterious white door that is never opened. Claudia threatens to harm Dalia should Dora leave. And so, frightened and injured, Dora has no option but to remain. Claudia goes even further in her manipulation, and forces Dora to lie to Aldo and to claim that she has stayed because she loves him.

The three characters now enter into an even stranger relationship with one another. Still unaware of Claudia’s threats, Aldo returns Dora’s ‘love’ with suspicion, verbal cruelty and arrogance. Yet he is happy for Dora to stay, since she can help Claudia fold the intricate origami shapes for the books they have been commissioned to make. Claudia teaches Dora how to fold paper, but is paradoxically resentful of the younger woman’s presence – despite having forced her to stay. As Claudia folds sheets of paper, parts of her past life with her husband and Aldo unfold. Aldo remembers an incident when he was a little boy, when his mother forced him to help her bury puppies. This memory prompts him to wonder why Dora has stayed – perhaps his mother is once again making him an unwilling participant in violence. Claudia talks about what happened when Aldo’s father died. She tells Dora how, mad with grief, little Aldo tried to burn their house down with himself and his mother inside. Claudia claims that this is the reason she has never since left her son’s side, becoming his lover as well as his mother.

The reliability of Claudia’s memories is called into question when Dora learns that Dalia is not in danger. Claudia admits that she did indeed try to hurt Dalia after finding her in bed with Aldo. Dalia, however, managed to escape. In addition, Aldo discovers that Claudia has threatened Dora into staying. Yet, mysteriously, Dora continues to insist that she loves Aldo. Even when Lenzo arrives to rescue her, Dora decides to stay. Aldo punishes his mother for her lies by making her croak like a frog. His humiliations do not stop there, however. Rather, faced with Dora’s strange confession that she loves him, Aldo forces the younger woman to fight with his mother for his affections. Dora and Claudia fight like frogs on the floor. Finally, Dora reaches Aldo and makes love to him. In this way, she triumphs over Claudia.

After her defeat, Claudia appears to relinquish her power over Aldo. She reveals that she was the one who set fire to the family home with herself and Aldo inside. Claudia bids her son goodbye, while Aldo talks about how scared he is of being alone when his mother dies. The play ends with the mysterious door opening, and Claudia saying that Dalia has returned.


The play is preceded by a quotation from act 4 of Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen -  ‘One is not always mistress of one’s thoughts’. Carlos Be notes the similarity between his play and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But in Origami, Hamlet (Aldo), Ophelia (Dora) and Gertrude (Claudia) all survive. Only Laertes (Lenzo) ‘dies’, in that there is no place for him in the strange household (Be 2010).

Critical response

Origami won the Born Theatre Prize in 2006. It has been published in Catalan, Galician and Spanish and has also been translated into Czech. In fact, the premiere of the play took place in Prague in 2010, staged in Czech with Spanish surtitles. This production was very well received by audiences. Carlos Be was also interested in the actors’ varied responses to the play’s mysteries. For example, one actor described the play as a ‘spider’s web of motivations’, while many of them wondered why Dora would want to work in such a strange household. Some of the actors suggested that Dora is a character attracted by mystery, which is why she stays (Be 2010).

Further information

The play was originally written in Catalan. It was translated into Spanish by the playwright.


Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 30 November 2011.

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