Out of the Wings

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Un busto al cuerpo (1999), Ernesto Caballero

English title: A Bust for Every Body
Date written: 1999
First publication date: 2001
First production date: 28 December 1999
Keywords: identity, identity > gender, family, history > modernity, love > friendship, identity > celebrity, family > parents and children, women
Genre and type: comedy

Breasts … boobs … knockers … hooters. Tits. A woman’s pride and joy. But what if you aren’t happy with what you’ve got? Breast may be best, but in Un busto al cuerpo (A Bust for Every Body) three women can’t quite decide which size or shape really makes a modern girl happy.


Cristina 1 is a forty-something lecturer. Cristina 2 is her thirty-something friend. Cristina 3 is the youngest, in her late teens or early twenties and daughter of Cristina 1. Each woman has a different chest size, and a different attitude towards breast surgery. In the first few scenes of the play the conflicting positions of Cristina 1 and Cristina 2 are established. Standing in front of her university students, Cristina 1 publically criticises the fact that Cristina 2 is considering breast enlargement. Using two balloons to crudely make her point, she condemns her friend’s superficiality. When Cristina 2 discovers that Cristina 1 has been discussing the former’s private life in class, she is outraged. And so, the ideological argument that will continue throughout the play begins. How could any woman even consider such a demeaning operation, argues Cristina 1? It’s a woman’s right to choose how she looks, counters Cristina 2. It shows how far women have come that they, rather than men, now control their own bodies. Cristina 2 is a radio presenter, but she may soon be moving into television. Evidently, Cristina 1 concludes, her friend is feeling the pressure to enhance her physical assets in the hope of securing the television job. Into this mix comes Cristina 3. Her views on Cristina 2’s possible breast enlargement differ from those of her mother. A student of Image Studies, she argues that Cristina 2 has the right to do what she wants with her body. In fact, whereas Cristina 2 is dissatisfied with the paucity of her god-given assets, Cristina 3 is secretly unhappy that, in her case, Mother Nature has been far too generous.

The debate between Cristina 1 and Cristina 2 about the latter’s possible breast operation rages throughout the play. The friends argue vehemently. They fall out and make up again, only for the cycle to repeat itself. Eventually, all three women plan a dinner party together to try and forget their differences. Each Cristina has decided to invite a male guest. Cristina 3 invites a performance artist who simply calls himself ‘J.M.’. Cristina 1 invites one of her students. Cristina 2 invites an extremely talented man. Her guest, José María, is a plastic surgeon.

In scene 8 the dinner party is in full swing. Cristina 1 dominates the conversation. Pointedly directing her comments to José María, she rambles on about natural beauty products, about the beauty of a lived-in face, about how awful surgically-enhanced breasts look. Tiring of Cristina 1’s conversation, the guests eventually leave. With this, the argument between Cristina 1 and 2 flares up again, only this time Cristina 3 gets involved as well. She has had quite enough of her mother’s obsession with Cristina 2’s possible surgery. In fact, why not give her mother something more to disapprove of? And so, Cristina 3 announces that she is getting a tattoo. As expected, this appals Cristina 1 and she argues fiercely with Cristina 2, blaming her friend for her daughter’s rebellion. By scene 10, however, the two friends have made up once more. Some time has passed since the dinner party, during which Cristina 2 has learnt that she has not got the television job – probably, she believes, because she still has not had her breasts enlarged. Meanwhile, the relationship between Cristina 1 and her daughter has deteriorated considerably. Cristina 3 has not just got one tattoo, she has covered herself in them. She has also dyed her hair, had it cut extremely short, and had practically every part of her body pierced. Her new look prompts Cristina 2 to invite her onto her radio show to discuss body image. Unfortunately, Cristina 3 insults Cristina 2 live on air. She reveals to the listeners that the presenter is thinking of having her breasts enhanced, makes fun of her wrinkles, and labels her a coward for not having the courage to make up her mind about the operation.

In scene 15 Cristina 3 apologises to Cristina 2 for her behaviour. In fact, she admits, Cristina 2 has inspired her have a breast operation. And so, Cristina 3 goes under José María’s knife – in her case to have her breasts reduced. Another Cristina has also paid a visit to José María’s surgery: Cristina 2 has finally taken her first steps towards breast happiness. But she has only had one breast enlarged; she looks lopsided! Time passes, and the next time we see the women they are all once again in José María’s clinic. Cristina 2 has finally been convinced to get her other breast enlarged. Surprisingly, she has been persuaded by Cristina 1, whose breasts are now considerably larger than before. It seems her previous objections to plastic surgery have disappeared. However, unbeknownst to Cristina 2, her newly-buxom friend has only temporarily added to her assets. She has not had surgery, but simply used bra fillers. Although Cristina 1 claims that such measures were the only way to convince Cristina 2 to fix her unbalanced chest, she is nevertheless pleased at the level of attention she now receives from students, colleagues, editors … Later, Cristina 2 returns from the operating room with her chest untouched. There will be no surgery today. José María is dead! His own chest, alas, has failed him. In the final scene of the play the three women attend the funeral of the departed surgeon. They have put their differences behind them. In fact, Cristina 2 seems to be coming round to the idea that looks are not everything, that the soul is the most beautiful part of the body. In the end, reflecting on the beauty of the soul, she wonders whether there are operations that can enhance that, too.


In scene 4, set in the library, Cristina 2 and 3 meet to work on a programme about Saint John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz) who was a sixteenth-century Spanish mystic and priest. He is known for his spiritual poetry. At the end of scene 4 Cristina 2 quotes a line from Saint John of the Cross’s poetry which translates as ‘I entered where I did not know / And there remained unknowing’ (de la Cruz 1998: 64).

In scene 8, after the dinner guests have left, Cristina 1 and 2 argue. Cristina 3 has threatened to get a tattoo and Cristina 2 is exasperated by Cristina 1’s shocked reaction to this. Cristina 2 accuses the older woman of smothering her daughter and calls Cristina 1 the names of a number of murderous or manipulative characters: Circe; Medea; Saturn; Bernarda Alba. In Greek mythology, Medea murdered her children and the goddess Circe had the power to turn her enemies into animals. The Roman god Saturn devoured his children. Bernarda Alba is a character from Federico García Lorca’s play La casa de Bernarda Alba (The House of Bernarda Alba). In this play the old matriarch Bernarda Alba rules over her household of five daughters. Eventually, her intransigent and domineering treatment of her daughters leads to tragedy. At the end of scene 8, Cristina 1 demands silence, crying ‘Silence! I said silence! Silence!’. Her cries echo the last words of Bernarda Alba at the end of Lorca’s play: on finding her daughter dead, she also demands silence, exclaiming ‘Silence, I said silence! Silence!’ (Lorca 2005: 64).

In scene 15 Cristina 3 compares herself to ‘Fellini’s tobacconist’. This female character comes from the Italian comedy film Amarcord (1973) directed by Federico Fellini, in which the tobacconist has extremely large breasts that, in one scene, she exposes to the central character Titta – almost smothering him with them.

In scene 20 the three Cristinas attend the funeral of José María, the plastic surgeon. Cristina 2 recites lines from a poem by the fifteenth-century Spanish poet, Jorge Manrique, entitled Coplas por la muerte de su padre (The ‘Coplas’ for the Death of His Father), which he wrote on the occasion of his own father’s death.

  • de la Cruz, San Juan. 1998. ‘I Entered Where I Did Not Know’, trans. Willis Barnstone. In Poesía española / Spanish Poetry: A Dual-Language Anthology 16th-20th Centuries, ed. Angel Flores, pp. 64-5. New York, Dover

  • García Lorca, Federico. 2005. The House of Bernarda Alba, trans. Rona Munro. London, Nick Hern

  • Caballero, Ernesto. 2001. Te quiero, muñeca. Un busto al cuerpo. Madrid, Ediciones de la Discreta

  • Caballero, Ernesto. 2002. ‘Un busto al cuerpo’, CELCIT: Dramática latinoamericana, 83, http://www.celcit.org.ar/publicaciones/dla.php?orden [accessed January 2010]. Search for ‘Caballero’ or ‘Un busto al cuerpo’ on this page to get access to the text. (Online Publication)

Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 13 November 2010.

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