Out of the Wings

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La marca de fuego (1986), José María Rodríguez Méndez

English title: The Mark of Fire
Notable variations on Spanish title: El Equis ('X')
Date written: 1986
First production date: 1986
Keywords: family, family > patriarchy, women, identity > class/social standing, love > friendship, power > intimidation, power > use and abuse, love > relationships, love > desire, power > inter-personal/game play, society, society > poverty, violence, violence > cruelty, violence > torture
Genre and type: melodrama, tragedy

A poor young couple in the grip of drugs. They want to break free from their addiction, but in a society in which the greedy and corrupt triumph, they tragically have little hope of succeeding.


Pepa and Yimi are addicted to drugs. As a violent man and former prisoner, Yimi thinks nothing of beating up old women to steal their handbags for money. He is not afraid of raising his fists at home, either, when he thinks that Pepa has stepped out of line. Recently, however, Pepa and Yimi have had a baby. Now, Yimi thinks it is time that his family stopped living on the margins of society. And so, as the play begins, Yimi and Pepa are trying to reduce the amount of drugs they consume. But coming off hard drugs is not easy. The couple cannot escape their cravings. More worryingly, they cannot escape their past – the people they used to know who have no intention of letting them climb out of the mire of poverty and addiction.

At the start of the play, Yimi discovers that Pepa has given in to temptation and injected herself with drugs. Not only has she greedily used up much of their rapidly-dwindling supply, but Pepa has also broken her promise to stop taking so many drugs. Yimi worries about her visible needle marks. Such things are hardly going to make them appear more respectable to their already-disapproving neighbours. Yimi gets angry, and Pepa reacts with similar aggression. A loud and violent argument ensues, until Pepa is forced to hide in the bedroom. But it is late at night. Yimi soon tires of threatening Pepa, preferring to take some drugs himself. He ignores the telephone, which has been ringing persistently. Eventually, worn down by the constant disturbance, Yimi answers the telephone. To his surprise, it is his old friend Equis (‘X’ in English). Equis is a notorious criminal. He and Yimi were in prison together. In fact, it was Equis who first got Yimi hooked on drugs.

Equis claims to have just come out of prison once again, and when he arrives at Yimi and Pepa’s house it is clear that he is not in the best of health. While Yimi talks about his desire to get off drugs, Equis keeps passing out. He does not seem to hear when Yimi tells him that he can only stay for one night. Pepa and Yimi are bemused by this behaviour. They briefly suspect that Equis is playing a trick on them. But Equis’ fainting fits then worsen – the result, he claims, of electric shock treatment in prison. This gives Yimi an idea about how to wake Equis up once and for all. He finds some electric cables, plugs them in, and shocks Equis awake.

A few days later, we see just how much of a mistake Yimi made by electrocuting Equis. The shock certainly woke Equis up, after which he attacked Yimi in a violent rage. Yimi is now dressed in rags at Equis’ feet. Equis has taken Pepa as his woman, much to her delight. Tired of Yimi’s violent moods, Pepa takes great pleasure in sadistically mocking her former partner. She and Equis make love in front of Yimi. They also enjoy large quantities of drugs. Since Equis’ arrival, the amount of drugs in the house has increased. This is mainly because Equis has convinced Pepa to sell her daughter to another family. Equis assures Pepa that the baby will have a much better life without her. He also reminds Pepa just how beautiful she was before she became a dowdy mother. Flattered, Pepa now believes that life as a drug-fuelled gangster’s moll suits her much better than motherhood. She forgets any of the good times she had with Yimi, preferring to think of him as a violent abuser. She greatly enjoys humiliating Yimi, knowing that Equis will protect her from his anger. Equis, in contrast, shows a strange kindness towards his old friend. In fact, he even gives Yimi some of their drugs. But Equis’ kindnesss is not to be trusted. Instead of giving Yimi proper drugs, he injects him with a poisonous turpentine solution. Yimi passes out, and will spend at least a week in a feverish haze. Pepa wants to get rid of Yimi for good, but Equis seems reluctant to kill him. Equis does, however, come up with a plan to get Yimi removed from the house. He invites a social worker to come and assess Yimi’s health. Hopefully, a good performance by Pepa as a distraught ‘wife’ will move the social worker into recommending that Yimi is immediately taken away to be cared for in hospital.

When the social worker arrives, she appears convinced by Pepa’s performance. Yet her hands are tied by bureaucracy, and it will be a while before Yimi can be removed from the home. Equis escorts the social worker out. While he does so, Yimi wakes from his stupor. He goes to attack Pepa, only to be overpowered once more by Equis. Pepa wants Equis to finish Yimi off, once and for all. But Equis has something much more elaborate in mind. He performs an elaborate and sadomasochistic ‘wedding’ ceremony, in which he tattoos Pepa’s arm. Persuaded by the promise of more drugs, Pepa submits to the excruciating procedure. Now, she bears the physical mark of one of Equis’ women. It is a mark that Equis calls the 'mark of fire’. Yimi bears a similar mark – as if he, too, ‘belonged’ to Equis. Her ordeal over, Pepa drifts away, high on drugs. She is barely conscious when the social worker returns. Chained to the door, Yimi helplessly looks on as the semiconscious Pepa – whom he surprisingly still loves – is led away by the social worker. Shocked, he realises that this so-called ‘social worker’ is in fact working for Equis. All this time, Equis has been plotting to sell Pepa and her child into slavery for his own profit.

At the end of the play, Equis releases Yimi. Equis claims that he deliberately got rid of Pepa and the baby so that he and Yimi could be together again, just like they were in prison. But Yimi is not interested in going back to a life as Equis’ subordinate, his days completely governed by drugs. He curses Equis for getting him involved in drugs in the first place. Vowing to get clean, Yimi leaves the house. Left alone, Equis insists that Yimi will be back – that he bears the ‘mark of fire’ and will never be able to escape the addictive lure of a life on drugs.

  • Rodríguez Méndez, José María. 2005. ‘La marca de fuego’. In Teatro escogido, vol. I, pp. 497-552. Madrid, Asociación de Autores de Teatro

  • Rodríguez Méndez, José María. 2007. La marca de fuego. Alicante, Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, [accessed January 2012] (Online Publication)

Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 24 January 2012.

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