Out of the Wings

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Un lugar estratégico (2003), Gracia Morales Ortiz

English title: A Strategic Point
Date written: 2003
First publication date: 2003
Keywords: history, history > memory, history > time, ideology, power > war, ideology > war, society, violence, violence > social
Genre and type: magic realism

A bridge becomes a strategic point of encounter between two warring communities – their past, their present and their future.


A man and a woman meet by chance on a bridge. This bridge links two cities that used to be at war. The man belongs to one side, the woman to the other. The bridge is divided into two halves, and each character keeps to their own designated half, careful never to cross into the other’s territory. For the moment, the war has ended. Yet suspicion, resentment and fear remain as the memories of the past continue to haunt the present.

The encounter between the man and woman on the bridge is interrupted by the appearance of a female vagabond. She is a mysterious character who will appear on several occasions during the play. The couple are amazed as she tries to fish in the dry riverbed below. To their surprise, the old woman catches a boot, which she adds to the collection of mismatching shoes she always has with her. The vagabond walks nonchalantly from one side of the bridge to the other, ignoring the line of separation. This alarms the man and woman, but the vagabond simply walks away, talking enigmatically about how time passes differently on bridges.

Left alone, the man and woman speculate on the number of people who might have stood on the bridge over the many centuries it has existed. They talk about the historic night – one winter years ago – when the bridge was almost destroyed by two soldiers during the bitter war. As if by magic, the man and woman change into military uniform and re-enact this occasion. As soldiers from warring sides, they arrive on the bridge at the same time. Unwilling to fight in such a small area, both simultaneously throw their rifles into the river below – which is flowing at this point in history. Even though they are enemies, the soldiers can empathise with one another’s experience of the horror of battle. As they talk, the strange vagabond woman appears once again. She is unconcerned about the ongoing war, more interested in selling some of her mismatching boots to the soldiers. Her arrival is met with hostility by the man and he violently shoos her away. The man picks up a detonator. He has a mission to accomplish; he must blow up the bridge. To his surprise, his female counterpart has been tasked with the same mission. Both soldiers hold their detonators threateningly, ready to destroy the bridge at the same time. Just as they are about to do so, however, each gets a message from their respective superiors, ordering them to stand down. And so, the bridge is saved from destruction.

The action moves back to the present and the man and woman take off their military uniforms. It appears that, gradually, the pair are getting used to one another. The woman, however, is not so ready to forget the past. All of a sudden, she claims to have met the man before, when they were both very young. She accuses him of sexually assaulting her during the war. Distressed, the man blames the destructive mentality of war for any crimes committed on either side. He argues that no one can be held responsible for their actions during such an exceptional time. The man still hopes for a shared future between the two cities. The woman, however, has had enough. She goes to throw herself off the bridge. Desperate to stop her, the man urges her to think of a time when their children or grandchildren might share the bridge happily together.

Once again, time shifts and the man and woman change clothes. They become a young girl and boy, perhaps descendants in some hypothetical future. This pair are sweethearts who share happy moments on the bridge – which now stretches over a fast-flowing river. The war has been over for a long time, but remnants of it still remain. The boy and girl find a rifle drifting past in the river’s current. They fish it out and the girl pretends to interrogate the boy at gunpoint. When the gun accidently fires into the air, the boy takes it into his possession for safekeeping – a hint perhaps of future conflicts.

The old vagabond joins the happy young couple on the bridge. Unlike their older counterparts, the boy and girl actually take an interest in the woman. She teaches them how to fish and talks enigmatically once again about how time passes differently on bridges. The vagabond moves on and time returns to the present. The boy and girl become the man and woman once more. Their strange encounters with one another, with the past and a possible future, seem to have changed them both. The man and woman promise to tell others in their respective cities about their time on the bridge. Perhaps, it is hoped, more people will be inspired to come to talk to those from the other side. The characters go their separate ways, and the old vagabond crosses the bridge for the final time.

The end of the play is set during a cold winter night, almost – but not quite – identical to the night when the bridge was nearly destroyed. This time, however, the soldiers detonate their charges, and the bridge is destroyed, thus separating both sides forever.


Near the beginning of the play the man and woman find an old inscription written on the bridge. It is from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and reads:

For instance, if you come at four in the afternoon, I’ll begin to be happy by three. The closer it gets to four, the happier I’ll feel. By four I’ll be all excited and worried; I’ll discover what it costs to be happy! But if you come at any old time, I’ll never know when I should prepare my heart (2000: 61).

The man and woman repeat this quotation near the end of the play as they say goodbye to one another.

As the young boy and girl, the characters recite lines from the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet.

  • Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de. 2000. The Little Prince, trans. Richard Howard. Orlando, Harcourt

Critical response

The play won the Miguel Romero Esteo Prize in 2003. The play has been translated into Italian and was performed as a dramatised reading at the Teatro Belli, Rome, in December 2007.

  • Morales, Gracia. 2005. ‘Un lugar estratégico’. In Colección Premio Miguel Romero Esteo 5: Gracia Morales, ‘Un lugar estratégico’; Gonzalo Lloret Marín, ‘Hasta que la muerte’. Sevilla, Consejería de Cultura

  • Morales, Gracia. 2010. Un lugar estratégico. Madrid, Caos Editorial, http://www.caoseditorial.com/libros/ficha.asp?lg=es&id=63 [accessed November 2011] (Online Publication)

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

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