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Wien: A Historical Play
Hi! So I had an introduction of sorts that I’d written into the first edition of this play that was based on a false conception of its length and themes. It also explained far too much that I was trying to keep subtle (though I’ve probably failed at that anyway!) And to be honest, in the end it was pretty darn pretentious, so I did what any good and sensible author does, and I got rid of it with one stroke of the delete key.
This new preface isn’t meant to tell you anything about the plot or themes of the following play: I don’t want to give one of those horrible introductions that spoils half the material. It’s meant to explain things about the writing of the play and its purpose.
Well, I began this play one winter break in a moment of some kind of folly. It was probably one of those moments when I felt like I was wasting my time and my life: I wanted to do something to validate myself and my existence. I remembered that I had once dabbled a bit in writing and some of my friends claimed I had a talent for it. So I wrote.
I had little idea of what I would write, but I had a setting, and I wrote a play off the setting. And what a fascinating setting it was! I read two books on the era, listened to much of its music, and looked at much of its art, and I was drawn further and further into the allure of fin-de-siècle Vienna. The play seemed a better and better idea to me to more I wrote.
That all came to an abrupt halt once winter break ended and I was forced back into the toil and misery that is what American high school has become. I suspended the writing of the work. I was thinking about giving up. I’ve tried to write many long works before, but I’ve given up on all of them, because after I got halfway through I always suddenly decided it was absolutely terrible and not worthy to be seen by anyone. But some stupidity about one of my New Years’ Resolutions kept me writing.
The belief that the following work was quite terrible has never left me. But I was determined to finish it so that I would at least have a finished piece of work I could show to people to prove that I had some sort of life, as opposed to a half-finished one I would never show anyone.
That’s the real story behind the writing of this work, I guess. I’ve thought the worst things about it. I’ve thought that the writing is clumsy and awkward, that I didn’t have any idea how to handle the setting, that it would be impossible to stage and perform (probably true, actually), that there’s no cohesive plot structure, that the characters are unsympathetic and unrealistic, and finally, that it’s just too much for me to handle. All the above may be true: I leave it up to you to decide! Just remember that I don’t think highly of this work either if you don’t.
And honestly, I’m not altogether concerned about the quality of this work. First of all, it’s a first draft which I might revise if I feel like it, and first drafts are usually pretty damn bad. Second, I don’t think anyone is expecting a sixteen-year old with little life experience to write a great masterwork, and I never intended this to be one. And third, I’m damn proud that I finished it in the first place, and it gives me the confidence that I can finish bigger and better things.
To be honest, some corners were cut in the finishing of the play. The final act, about the characters dying in the First World War, resolved a lot of thematic threads I was working into, but would have been even more impossible to stage and was honestly too hard for me to write. In fact, even though it tied up a lot of my messages for the work, it somehow managed to turn them into ones too bleak and cynical for even me. So I cut that nonsense. I decided to revert to a more traditional three-act structure. The story ends happily, not with characters being slowly blown to pieces in shell craters. And that act wouldn’t have even taken place in Vienna, making the whole title of this play a lie.
One other influence in the writing of this play was my taste for German culture, probably shaped by my taste for German music. I am, indeed, a self-confessed Teutonophile. No, I have no German descent and the best I can do with the language is to say that I don’t speak much of it and to swear at people. But, in my opinion, if white teenagers with no Asian descent can be obsessed with Japanese culture, I most certainly have the right to have an equal obsession with German culture.
And finally, I’ll admit to you I was making most of this play up as I went along. I had no plans for things, and some of the characters totally changed personalities in the middle of my writing. So you might find that characters act totally different in the later acts than the first few for no reason, and that the plot is a little bare and disjointed. I don’t plan when I write: I have general ideas and I figure out to get to them as I write. Hey, apparently Stephen King does it this way, and apparently the writers of Lost did too. (Didn’t turn out too well for the latter, supposedly).
A real final note: due to similar comments that various advance readers have made, the author of this play denies that any of the characters were intentionally based on himself or his close friends. However, several of their conversations are inspired by ones that he has had in his personal life, and consequently some characters are perhaps subconsciously made similar to people that he knows and is close to in real life.
I apologize sincerely for the quality of this play if you decide to take on the task of reading it. But the author, Daniel Shao, assures you that he is absolutely happy about its current state, if not entirely satisfied.
At the turn of the century Vienna, despite the failing state of the empire for which it served as imperial city, was still the cultural center of Europe (and one could say by extension the world). Both intellectual thought and the arts were in full bloom, reacting to the chaotic and disordered political climate through the violent revolt against the last Enlightenment principles of rationalism: perhaps what one could call the birth of modernism.
The following play has as one of its primary purposes a capturing of the general feeling of the era and of the city, as described above. Not all historical events and personages are portrayed in an entirely accurate fashion. The timeline is distorted, contorted, and often shifted to make room for the characters to comment on certain events. The primary purpose of this play is not to inform or teach (at least hopefully not), but rather to entertain and to provoke.
Periodically throughout the play an Author character representing yours truly will intervene to describe known historical inaccuracies. These monologues are performed on an optional basis, and indeed the author suggests cutting them to amplify the dramatic effect on the play. They are provided purely on an informative basis and to discourage the worse sort of pedant from bearing down upon this work.
Some characters are fictional and any resemblance they bear to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Other characters are not, and they may or may not resemble closely the historical personages upon which they are based. Some of the beliefs in this play expressed by the characters may be reflection of the actual beliefs of the author. Most are not. It is to the reader’s discretion and knowledge of the author to decide which are which.
The author apologizes sincerely for the state of the following work in terms of its historical accuracy, which, in the end, leaves much to be desired for artistic effect.
THE AUTHOR: We are here, in fin-de-siècle Vienna. The Austro-Hungarian Empire is a walking corpse, a sick nation held together by the will of one old and failing man. Inside this corpse, however, is a wildly decadent spirit, one that hides the decay with gaiety and splendor. A casual observer would see only the spectacle of the city, the great artists and music and grand balls, all of which have become more splendid than ever. He or she would not see the crumbling foundations underneath.
Our story begins with three young men from prosperous families going to see an opera, one that was actually performed at the time under the tenure of Gustav Mahler at the Vienna Court Opera: Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.
Outside the opera house. Two men, well-dressed, stand in the center, surrounded by a large crowd awaiting the start of the performance.
HEINRICH: Well then, we’re here to see the great conductor, aren’t we? Funny thing I should tell you, friend. Apparently the man has some pretensions to compose of his own.
ANTON: I’ve heard. The premiere of his First Symphony was a disaster.
HEINRICH: Something about the fourth movement, or so I’ve heard.
ANTON: The public takes new work with too little patience these days. They always go back to hear Brahms and Beethoven but they never give these new artists a fair chance.
HEINRICH: Why should they? People prefer the familiar, don’t they?
ANTON: It is well and fine to do so, but you should at least give the new a fighting chance. At this rate there will be nothing more than performances of the same old works over and over again in fifty years.
HEINRICH: Hmph. I suppose it would be sad if in fifty years they were still only performing that damned Verdi.
ANTON: What is it with you and those Italians?
HEINRICH: (taking a satiric and pompous tone) Well, their music is like their culture: past its prime. It is time our stronger and more vital culture took its place. (Back to his normal voice) No, there’s nothing wrong with him, truth be told. But the operas are all so long!
ANTON: Sometimes I have a hard time telling your jokes from your beliefs, Heinrich.
HEINRICH: Well, if it sounds sensible, it’s probably something that I believe. If it doesn’t I’m mocking it.
ANTON: And here is Felix. Felix! Over here!
Enter Felix, with Frau von Babenburg holding his hand.
HEINRICH: (quietly) Looks like his newest companion is with him. (laughs)
FELIX: (laughing) And these are my friends, the scoundrels I’ve told you so much about. Now, Anton here will answer any question about music that you wish to ask! And Heinrich can talk so endlessly on politics!
LINDA: Delighted to meet you, gentlemen. And he talks of you quite often.
HEINRICH: (jokingly) Oh, so you can tell us what he really thinks of us!
LINDA: It is nothing bad, I assure you.
ANTON: So, what do you two know of this opera?
FELIX: It’s some great fantasy about a ring, isn’t it? Something with a dwarf and the gods and Rhinemaidens.
HEINRICH: I think you may have your Wagner confused, Felix.
LINDA: It’s the one with the love potion, isn’t it? My friends were telling me of the production last week.
ANTON: We don’t want to spoil the story for Felix, now! Well, I am here today to see the great Mahler conduct: I have heard only the finest things about his interpretations. Perhaps your friends had some comments on his directing?
LINDA: It was quite splendid, but I doubt my friends would have tastes in music as refined as yours, Herr von Allenburg.
FELIX: Should be something fine for a romantic evening, no? (takes Linda’s hand)
ANTON: Well, perhaps not…
HEINRICH: (interrupting) I think it would be perfect! I am sure you two will enjoy yourselves.
FELIX: Magnificent! I will ensure that some refreshments are in order for us after the first act.
ANTON: Come back quickly, Felix. I believe it may be starting soon.
HEINRICH: (quietly) She’s pretty enough, isn’t she?
ANTON: Hm? I suppose. He’ll be back with another one next time.
HEINRICH: I wonder how he finds the ability in him, you know. To be liked, trusted, loved. It seems so natural to him. I would envy him, if I weren’t repulsed by what he does with it.
ANTON: It goes against your sense of honor, doesn’t it?
HEINRICH: Absolutely. He uses these women. It’s like a game to him.
ANTON: And yet you still believe he’s a good man and call him your friend.
HEINRICH: (with hesitation) He’s never been anything but good to me. I’ve known him since I was a little boy, and back then he had a kind and good soul. I am certain he still has one, despite his tendencies. And I know he would never betray me. (pauses, then turns to Anton). Tell me the truth. What do you think of him?
ANTON: (thinks for a moment, then shrugs) I agree with your assessment, I suppose. He’s been a good and loyal friend to us. And he does have a strong backbone of sorts when it comes to some things. I don’t think he’s a bad man inside.
(An ARTIST, shabbily dressed, approaches the two men)
ARTIST: Excuse me, fellows, but you don’t happen to have a few marks I could borrow? My ticket was robbed, you see. I think some Gypsies made off with it.
ANTON: (feeling strangely repulsed by the man, yet intrigued) You seem a little different from the usual crowd coming to see the opera.
ARTIST: That you are right about! I am an artist by trade. Forces have conspired against me, prevented my entry to the high halls. But as an artist I must see great art! And I find everything great in German art in Wagner. I would not miss this performance for anything in the world. Please! I beg of you! Spare your fellow man some mercy. A little money is all I need.
HEINRICH: (handing over a few bills) Here you go, good fellow. I hope you manage to get a ticket quickly.
ARTIST: Oh, bless you! I promise I will repay the favor to you someday! (walks away, then turns back towards the two men). I must remember your names!
HEINRICH: Heinrich. This is my friend Anton.
ARTIST: I will remember your faces! I hope I find myself in the company of fellow art-lovers today.
HEINRICH: You surely do. Anton here knows the most about music of any man I know.
ARTIST: Now, if I were leader of the German Reich one day, I would make more of our people appreciate this great art!
ANTON: Something tells me you may find yourself in such a position someday, friend.
ARTIST: I would sincerely hope so. Well, I will have to leave to seize a ticket. You have my eternal thanks for this! I will never forget this kindness of yours.
(The Artist exits).
(Linda enters the stage. Felix is nowhere to be seen).
ANTON: Frau Babenberg! Where is Felix?
LINDA: Oh, he’s off seducing some women of low standards. I know his type well. I’ve seen it so often that it does not repulse me anymore.
HEINRICH: (laughing) I see you haven’t been taken in by his charms very much. And I thought you were just the latest one he’d managed to cajole!
LINDA: I am a little more intelligent than that, I think.
HEINRICH: More intelligent than most expect a woman to be in this contemptible city.
ANTON: Why did you come here, then?
LINDA: Why, because I wanted to meet his friends who he talked of so much. And to listen to great opera.
ANTON: (smiling) Well, I suppose you’ve met them now. I have the feeling you know a little bit more about music than you let on.
LINDA: I have seen Tristan at Bayreuth, Herr Anton.
ANTON: You are a marvelous dissembler, you know.
LINDA: I’ve been told that before. Well, it isn’t considered ladylike of me oftentimes to say what I think, and so I learn to pretend.
HEINRICH: How did you manage to throw off Felix?
LINDA: It didn’t take much trying. I told him that I would continue looking for whatever he said we were looking for when he spotted some…objects of interest.
ANTON: I don’t believe he’ll be back to see the opera. Too bad. Perhaps we could have offered that provincial his ticket.
HEINRICH: Curious man he was.
ANTON: He seemed a little like you when you’re in a farcical mood, but he was so earnest about it that there was nothing to laugh about. A little disturbing, to be honest.
LINDA: (looking towards the back of the stage) It looks as if they’re letting in the audience at long last.
ANTON: Let’s make our way in, friends.
(The curtain falls)
(A slight pause before a lone light comes back on, shining on Felix in a disheveled state)
FELIX: Dear god, they’ve left me behind!
WOMAN: Who are you talking about?
FELIX: My friends! And dear Linda- oh no! She’s in there with them!
WOMAN: Who is this Linda you’re talking about? Is there some woman you haven’t told me of?
FELIX: (realizing his mistake) Oh! Linda… she’s my sister, yes, my sister! I’m afraid to leave her in the opera house with those two men! They can get- get up to some mischief, you see!
WOMAN: And are you saying you aren’t getting up to some mischief right about now?
FELIX: I must leave! I am so sorry! There was no mischief intended, none at all! Oh, but they took my ticket! I must go!
WOMAN: (angrily) I think you really should as well. You have five minutes before I call the police on you.
(The light turns off, with FELIX running off-stage).
(Outside the opera house again. The sun has set and the audience is leaving after the performance).
ANTON: Absolutely spectacular, absolutely! I’ve never seen the orchestra put out sounds like that in my entire life. And the singers were miraculous: how does Herr Mahler manage to find people with such talent, anyway?
HEINRICH: It seems to me the whole opera is dissonances until the very end, dear friend. The first chord you hear is shocking and it doesn’t resolve from there. A very modern work.
ANTON: Well, it has a purpose within the plot. The tension between the characters builds through the opera along with the dissonance, and it’s all resolved together at the very end.
HEINRICH: Hm. And when you were saying we were to see Wagner I thought we were going to see more anti-Semitism and less love affairs.
LINDA: I find that I cannot stand the Ring. Tristan is probably my favorite Wagner. You know, the two great things these Romantics love writing about seem to be love and death. They seem opposed, but Wagner unites them at the very end of the opera.
HEINRICH: Well, now, you’re forgetting the nature worship. Never forget the nature worship: the trees and fields drive those Romantics quite mad.
ANTON: That’s an interesting thought. I suppose that they’re the two things that arouse the strongest emotions from us.
LINDA: The Liebestod seems a bit of a contradiction to me at first, but in the end whatever the strangeness of the concept the music is sublime. Perhaps there truly are some passions that are too great for life to bear.
ANTON: You know that there’s many music writers who’ve made similar remarks as you have about the opera.
LINDA: (laughs) They’re my idle musings, Herr Anton. You think too highly of me. What did you think of the conducting?
ANTON: As good as I would have hoped and more. I don’t understand why the Jew-haters want to drive Mahler out. If they could only see him conduct I’m sure their thoughts would be changed.
HEINRICH: (snorting) The Jew-haters are a bunch of fools, all of them. To them there is some grand conspiracy involving all Jews that makes them the root of all evil. Our mayor himself is one of these stupid men.
(Felix enters the stage)
FELIX: Hey, you! You left me behind!
LINDA: It’s more accurate to say that you left me behind.
FELIX: My god, I was waiting outside the opera house for three hours! Can’t that man write some shorter works, now?
ANTON: Brevity is not one of Wagner’s strengths, Felix.
HEINRICH: (chuckling) I’ll make this up to you, friend. I have a few fine bottles of whiskey that have just arrived from Scotland. What say you to spending the night at my estate?
FELIX: (his spirits rising) Well, that sounds magnificent. How was the conduct of these rascals, Linda?
LINDA: Perfectly acceptable. These are two fine gentlemen of friends that you have here.
FELIX: Unlike me, eh? (laughs) You know, you seem different than most of the crowd that I pick up. I’ll give you the courtesy of telling you that your company’s better spent with more respectable fellows than I.
LINDA: I had assumed as much. Go find some prettier and stupider woman than me, now.
FELIX: Now, there’s a good suggestion if I’ve ever heard one. But the prettier part might be a little difficult. (winks, then turns away with Heinrich). Now, some whiskey sounds good.
HEINRICH: Have you any transport home, Anton?
ANTON: One of my family’s apartments is not far from here, Anton.
HEINRICH: And you, Frau?
LINDA: Well, it is not considered acceptable for a woman to be walking about alone at this hour. And not exactly safe, either. The tram is nearby, however.
HEINRICH: Travel safely. Anton, I will see you at my dinner.
ANTON: Of course! I’d almost forgotten about that, truth be told.
FELIX: Well, good night then, fellows! Don’t let those low rogues start to eye you two!
LINDA: (looking at Felix) It seems one is already eyeing me here.
(Felix and Heinrich exit, leaving Linda and Anton alone).
LINDA: Herr Anton, I’ve been wondering. Do you compose anything yourself?
ANTON: Oh, well, I dabble occasionally. I wrote a string quartet once, but it was some dreadful stuff once I heard it played. I was thinking about starting an opera and I realized I hadn’t the slightest idea how to write one. I think I’ll stick to appreciating the works of others for now.
LINDA: That’s strange. I would have figured that someone as passionate about music as you were would have written it themselves.
ANTON: (chuckling) Composition is a difficult business, now. Too difficult for someone of little talent like me.
LINDA: You know, it was interesting going to see the opera with you today. I think that my family would love to have you over as a guest for one of our soirees. Well, at the very least, I would. The conversation always turns towards politics. You would add a little variety.
ANTON: Perhaps Heinrich would feel welcome, then. He enjoys talking about those things. When is the next event you have planned?
LINDA: May 16th, at our house on the Ringstrasse. Look for the Schubertring and ask around.
ANTON: I will check to see if I have any appointments for the day.
LINDA: (coquettishly) Don’t be shy, now, Anton. (takes his hand)
ANTON: (nervously) I promise that I’ll attend if I can. But I have a terribly busy schedule, I do. Many appointments with friends, family affairs to take care of. I-
LINDA: (interrupting) No need to be nervous. If you don’t want to go you can perfectly well reject the invitation.
ANTON: No, I am being perfectly earnest. I will attend if I can.
LINDA: (shrugging) Your loss if you don’t. We have interesting company and fine food. Perhaps you’ll find the latter of some interest, at the very least. (smiling) I can tell when a man’s being reluctant about these things, Anton.
ANTON: Frau Linda, I have the feeling there’s more behind this than inviting me to a soiree.
LINDA: Of course there is. I’d like to get to know you better.
ANTON: Likewise. But tell me the truth, now. Why only me? Why not Heinrich or Felix?
LINDA: Oh, you can bring them if you wish. I believe Felix at the very least would be reluctant to attend. But you seem a little more tasteful than either of them. I like people with good taste.
ANTON: You flatter me. All right. I promise I’ll go. I’m sorry, it was terribly rude of me to think about turning you down earlier. I forget myself around beautiful women.
LINDA: I tell you now that some women tend to do the same thing around dashing men. I am not one of those women. You friend Felix is dashing enough, but I can usually see the truth behind the man if I look hard enough. (looks at her pocketwatch) Well, the tram should be arriving about now. I will have to make my way over quickly. Remember, May 16th. I will be awaiting your arrival eagerly, Anton.
ANTON: I will see you there.
(The curtain falls).
END OF THE PRELUDE.
The private study of Heinrich. Books lay scattered around the floor, with the walls lined by filled bookshelves. On Heinrich’s lap is a copy of Das Kapital.
HEINRICH: Damned Marx. And I thought the Manifesto was obtuse enough. Is this a political tract or a math textbook?
GUSTAV: Das Kapital is something even the most devoted adherents of Marx have spent their lives trying to understand. It probably isn’t the best text for you to start with.
HEINRICH: I know! I’ve read the contemptible Manifesto already!
GUSTAV: What did you think of it?
HEINRICH: Well, some of it was brilliant. But it stretches itself too far in its statements. “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles”- that’s an exaggeration if I’ve ever seen one.
GUSTAV: Marx was a genius, but I will have to agree with you that he can only stretch his theories so far. The mechanisms of class struggle explain the events of the last two centuries well, the rest, not so much.
HEINRICH: Hah! Next thing you know the socialists will be telling me the Vesuvius eruption was caused by class tension.
GUSTAV: I’m quite sure some devoted Marxist is busy proving that right now.
HEINRICH: These fools, always trying to twist reality into their own little beliefs. That’s where they show their stupidity. Well, you’re a historian. I needn’t lecture you on all this.
GUSTAV: Of course I do, Heinrich. Anyway, did you receive that copy of the Meditations I sent you?
HEINRICH: The Marcus Aurelius you were telling me about? Can’t say I’ve seen it anywhere. Sounds like a fascinating book, but I’ll have to start it once I’ve made sense of Marx.
GUSTAV: It’s a rather different type of text, Heinrich. Far less political, far more moral and personal. I find it provides a good guide to my own life.
HEINRICH: Of course, you old Stoic, you. You know, I have few friends that can hold good conversation with me on the matters that you can. I’m always glad to have you in my household.
GUSTAV: Likewise. You should think about applying for a job at the university. You would make a far more interesting lecturer than I would.
HEINRICH: Me? With no qualifications? I don’t think they’d like me there at all.
GUSTAV: As a guest lecturer, maybe. You could always pay for a space and advertise to the students. If you’re popular enough they’ll let you have a permanent job.
HEINRICH: It would compromise my integrity to pay my way into anything, Gustav. Hell, you had a much harder time of it. Plenty in this city fought long and hard against your appointment.
GUSTAV: The anti-Semites grow more and more in their numbers. It seems that I am a Jew no matter what I do. I can barely speak a word of Yiddish, Heinrich. My father called himself a proud German and I do so as well, but apparently others do not think that of us.
HEINRICH: Fools, the lot. There are too many races and ethnicities for our empire to survive if they are to hate one another. The system must be reformed if House Habsburg is to survive on its throne. If the Reich is to survive.
GUSTAV: You have the ear of some important young men, or so I’ve heard.
HEINRICH: Ah, yes. They’re men of little influence, truth be told, but their families have much of it. They join me at soirees and dances when I slink off to the corners. We smoke and talk politics, but I always end up talking more than the rest combined.
GUSTAV: You have a habit of doing that, Heinrich.
HEINRICH: I talk more loudly and more quickly than the others, and with more conviction. Even if I’m saying the worst nonsense the crowd seems to suck it in.
GUSTAV: You can be quite intimidating too, Heinrich.
HEINRICH: (laughing) Me? Intimidating? Who would be afraid of me? What power do I have?
GUSTAV: The things you say scare people. Granted, that does not mean you should not say them. But they scare people because they realize that what you say is the truth.
HEINRICH: What? I barely believe half the things I say myself. I talk to provoke the fools, not to voice my opinions.
GUSTAV: Which is why what you end up saying is true.
HEINRICH: This city is built on lies, Gustav. It glitters and shines so beautifully; it has such great culture and thought; but it has a black soul. Every one of the gay people you see is so miserable.
GUSTAV: Well, the world has changed, Heinrich. The liberals have failed us. We men of the better classes know not what to do now. Our world, our entire conception of it, it is all being swept aside. We hang on to a cliff with all of our desperate strength, but slowly, bit by bit, our fingers slip.
HEINRICH: The world used to be a much more cheery place when the liberals were in charge. All that humdrum about the rational and moral nature of man. The dolts thought that everything could be solved if they applied enough reason to it.
GUSTAV: You are a man of this world whether you deny it or not. You have embraced its beliefs.
HEINRICH: It is a brilliant time, a mad time.
GUSTAV: Indeed, it is madness that has full reign over this world now.
HEINRICH: You’ve never told me your opinions on these matters, friend.
GUSTAV: Why are they relevant? I am a philosopher and historian, not a political observer like you. I would consider your views far more insightful.
HEINRICH: Well, you’re one of the few men who I’m always willing to listen to no matter how wrong I think you are.
GUSTAV: (sighing) All right. Well, in my opinion, it would be best to have a system like that Plato suggested. A society ruled by philosopher-kings, wise people with absolute power but who wield it justly for the sake of the people. But I doubt there are any men so good in this world.
HEINRICH: I find that I agree with you somewhat. But this is all theory. We have nothing concrete, only a set of ideals.
GUSTAV: Well, ideals are a good first step. We build more specific beliefs from basic ideals.
HEINRICH: The Empire needs federalization, in my opinion. The Dual Monarchy is a concept that needs further exploring; it was a mistake to only extend rights to the Magyars. The other nationalities will want their independence regardless of what Franz Joseph wills.
GUSTAV: So you propose destroying the Reich in order to save it?
HEINRICH: No, I propose keeping the smallest portion of it instead of losing all of it. If this goes on the Reich will collapse at the first strain. Better to keep the least bit: it is probably all we can keep at this point.
GUSTAV: I hear the young Franz Ferdinand may share beliefs similar to your own. He seems like he would be a wise and just Kaiser, if I say so myself.
HEINRICH: I would hope so! Perhaps Ferdinand will have the people’s touch that Joseph lacks.
(A SERVANT enters)
SERVANT: Herr Gerhard, a guest is in to see you.
HEINRICH: Do you recognize the man?
SERVANT: Yes, it is your friend Felix.
HEINRICH: Well, why didn’t you tell me in the first place? Bring in three cups of tea. Earl Gray, with lemon and a touch of honey.
SERVANT: As you wish, Herr.
GUSTAV: Herr Fuchs. I believe we are acquainted.
FELIX: Ah, Herr Bonhardt! We met at the last one of Heinrich’s dinner gatherings, did we not?
GUSTAV: That we did. I seem to recall you talked little.
FELIX: I feel ashamed to be in intelligent company, Herr. A fool like me has little to add to your eloquence.
GUSTAV: On the contrary, you seem like one of those men who hides a good mind behind a fool’s mask.
HEINRICH: Felix, how has Anton been? He hasn’t talked to me since that night at the opera.
FELIX: (smiling) Well, that is precisely what I came here to talk to you about. The fool’s been troubled lately by something. A woman, you see.
GUSTAV: Isn’t your friend heir to quite an inheritance? I would think that would make him quite desirable to a deal of young women.
HEINRICH: Oh, it does. But he’s never taken a great interest in the fairer sex. He’s the sensitive type but he’s not exactly what you’d think of as a romantic. Maybe if you capitalized the R, that would fit him. Anton might be the artistic type but he’s never been a fool.
FELIX: He seems so reluctant to tell me who the woman in question is. Well, let me tell you the whole story. It’s a bit of a funny one. He comes to my door three days after that night, with the most serious expression I’ve ever seen on his face. “Felix,” he says, “how do you tell if a woman is… fond of you?”
FELIX: You know, I think I know what could cure his romantic afflictions. The company of a few disreputable women, now, that makes you forget the stirrings of the heart quite quickly.
HEINRICH: Felix, you know Anton would never go whoring. Especially not with you. And who’s saying that his “afflictions” need curing?
FELIX: Well, what’s wrong with me? I know where the clean houses are. Goodness knows there’s few enough of them in this city. And love makes us men lose our wits far too much. It turns us all into fools.
GUSTAV: You typically don’t hear these things discussed in polite company. The whorehouses are Vienna’s best-kept secret inside the Ringstrasse.
FELIX: (snorts) And its worst kept anywhere else. Don’t pretend that all those men with cold bedrooms don’t try to satisfy their needs elsewhere.
HEINRICH: You might be a rogue, Felix, but at least you’re honest about it.
FELIX: You don’t need to tell me you disagree with much of the rest of my conduct.
HEINRICH: Well, about Anton. How is he acting? Is his heart restless, now?
FELIX: He is quite happy, quite. As happy as a man in love can be. But he has his wits, mostly. Still jabbering on about art. I’m relieved that this hasn’t changed him too much, though I must admit that his talk gets a little irritating at times.
HEINRICH: Well, if he’s happy, then I’m happy for him. I just hope the woman he’s found will be able to satisfy his standards.
FELIX: You know, in truth, if there’s anything that man needs it’s a tender hand. Poor bastard only knew his parents for long enough to have his heart broken when death took them both.
GUSTAV: I remember meeting Herr von Allenburg once. He seemed quite well-spoken about artistic matters, if I recall correctly.
HEINRICH: That’s Anton for you. Good man, better man than I am certainly. Better than Felix most definitely.
FELIX: Well, that’s not saying very much, now.
HEINRICH: You do all the things high society does in secret more honestly and you seem the worse for it. You’re a better man than most in this city, Felix.
FELIX: I have always hated those hypocrites.
HEINRICH: Well, it looks as if the tea has arrived. Will you be staying for dinner, Gustav?
GUSTAV: I believe I will be. What is the order of the day?
HEINRICH: Some roast goose and wine. It will be a small affair, Gustav. I think you will like it very much.
FELIX: What about that whiskey, eh? Hiding the rest away from us?
HEINRICH: After what you did to it the last time you got it I don’t think I’m letting that bottle anywhere near you again, fiend.
FELIX: What? I only drank one whole bottle.
HEINRICH: I don’t want to see you drunk again.
GUSTAV: Well, the meal sounds wonderful. Who else will be coming?
HEINRICH: Will Anton show?
FELIX: I asked him. He seemed a little forgetful about it, but he assured me he’d be coming.
HEINRICH: Hm. Well, perhaps we can dig a little more information about this woman out of him then! I’m curious as to this whole affair. Do you know where he is now?
FELIX: In the secession building with some of his artist friends. I’ll leave to give him a little reminder. I will be back quickly.
HEINRICH: Make sure you return before the tea’s cold, now!
GUSTAV: Heinrich, the secession building is some ways away from this apartment.
HEINRICH: (chuckling and pulling over Felix’s cup of tea) All the more for ourselves, then.
An art gallery. Modern paintings from diverse styles adorn the walls, various viewers admiring them.
ANTON: Well, Herr Berg, I’ve heard that you’re acquainted with Herr Klimt.
THE COMPOSER: I indeed am. He’s a bit of an eccentric, now. Keeps to himself and never frequents the cafes, unlike most of us artists.
ANTON: People call him a pornographer. I suppose that was why he fled to the Secession: the general public was far too (pausing to find the word) closed in their tastes for him.
THE COMPOSER: What do you think? Fascinating and provocative art, or vulgar trash?
ANTON: I don’t know. I’m here today to make my judgment about that, now. But I have an open mind about these things. These new modern styles always fascinate me, even if I do not like them. Do you think we’ll be able to catch him here?
THE COMPOSER: There’s a chance of that. Klimt is probably delivering some of his newest works for exhibition sometime today.
ANTON: I hope I can meet the man. Herr Berg, I hear that you’ve been taking lessons in composition from Arnold Schoenberg.
THE COMPOSER: (enthusiastically) Ah, yes! He’s a brilliant man. He wants to challenge and change our music to the core. He’s a revolutionary, Anton, he is. I’ve learned so much from him already. You should try to ask for his teaching, as well.
ANTON: I’m afraid I don’t even have nearly the experience that you do with composition, Alban. I doubt I even have enough of the fundamentals to take lessons from Schoenberg.
THE COMPOSER: Well, you can learn, then! Composition is a difficult business but I think it’s what you’re meant for.
ANTON: I feel like it isn’t, to be perfectly honest with you. You know what I’ve thought about doing, though?
THE COMPOSER: What?
ANTON: Becoming an art critic. Well, I hate that term because I can never bring myself to criticize near anything. But I want to write about art for some newspaper somewhere: set down some of my thoughts on paper, promote these new styles to the conservative types.
THE COMPOSER: You’ve already sent off a few articles to the papers, haven’t you?
ANTON: Yes! In fact one was actually accepted. It was my review of the Tristan production under Mahler: I went to see it last week.
THE COMPOSER: Good for you, Anton!
(The two men approach a painting, Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze)
ANTON: So here is our man. Well, at least, there’s enough erotic imagery for it to be Klimt.
THE COMPOSER: I’ve always found this a little strange. He calls it the Beethoven Frieze; what does it have to do with Beethoven? It’s a fine work of art, experimental, daring, technically proficient, but what has it to do with Beethoven?
ANTON: Perhaps we could ask him ourselves if he shows. (looking at the painting)
(Freeze. THE AUTHOR steps in front of the characters)
THE AUTHOR: I will have to make a brief apology before this portion. Having the Beethoven Frieze on display at this moment in the play implies that the date is before 1903, when the Frieze was sold, but a more accurate date would be around 1907 or 1908. For the sake of the play, I was forced to change this history and have the Frieze up on display at this date instead.
(THE AUTHOR walks off-stage. The characters continue).
ANTON: Well, it travels in a sort of linear sequence now. (staring at the middle) I can see where his reputation as a pornographer comes from. But the imagery is not meant to arouse. It is sexual, yes, but repulsive. It seems to build a sort of revulsion in the viewer for the carnal.
THE COMPOSER: I think that is the point. It portrays lust as a human failing. To Klimt in this painting it seems to be something that torments him.
ANTON: Judging from the stories I’ve heard of his brood of children I’m not sure if you can say that with certainty, Herr Berg.
THE COMPOSER: Well, perhaps he has a hard time resisting his desires.
ANTON: Love is a little like a whiff of opium, isn’t it? It clouds the wits, makes you stupid and foolish, but it takes you somewhere beyond the mundane. Somewhere beyond the drudgery of life.
THE COMPOSER: That’s a fine analogy even for you, Anton. Yes, I suppose you’re quite right about that. But I never figured you for much of a romantic.
ANTON: Well, what do you think the general scheme of the frieze means? The knight, what is that a symbol for?
THE COMPOSER: I don’t know. Perhaps the redeeming spirit of art, or something like that.
ANTON: What of the kiss at the end?
THE COMPOSER: Love? It seems to end on an optimistic note, at the very least.
(THE PAINTER enters)
THE PAINTER: Alban! I was not expecting to see you here today. And who is your friend?
ANTON: I am Anton von Allenburg, Herr Klimt. Herr Berg and I trying to appreciate one of your works.
THE PAINTER: The Beethoven Frieze! But of course. What did you think of it?
THE COMPOSER: Well, we had a question first, Gustav. What does this have to do with Beethoven?
THE PAINTER: Ah! Well, you see, the frieze was created for an exhibition celebrating the great man! Truth be told, though, it has little to do with the master.
ANTON: Well, Herr Klimt, I think your work is quite excellent. It is bold and original, to say the least.
THE PAINTER: You should have seen what I painted when I was younger. Sold for money, yes, a good sum, too, but it was soulless. Very pretty work. But soulless work. I have only begun to find my own style recently.
ANTON: I hope that you carry it on. This is quite fascinating to me. In fact, Herr Klimt, would you approve of me penning an article on your work?
THE PAINTER: Most definitely! Well, I’m afraid I don’t want to tell you too much about the work. I might rob the creativity from your mind about this. And it is getting tiring carrying this painting around. Take care, Herr Berg. And good luck with your pursuits, Herr Allenburg.
ANTON: I wish the same upon you. Goodbye, Herr Klimt.
(THE PAINTER exits, leaving THE COMPOSER and ANTON alone in front of the painting)
THE COMPOSER: (laughing) And I was hoping to get a few more answers out of him. He’s a reserved man usually. I suppose I thought your presence might open him up a little.
ANTON: He wants to have his work speak for itself. I can respect that. If artists went and told us how to interpret their works then we’d be deprived of the whole personal aspect of it all.
THE COMPOSER: Yes. You know, when I write a work, I want it to be the sort of thing those musicologists spend years pondering over. I want to hide messages, little jokes, maybe even a few references in the notes. A coded program or two.
ANTON: I’ve heard that Schoenberg’s methods are quite mathematical. They would lend themselves to hiding some message well, wouldn’t they?
THE COMPOSER: I’ll see what I can make of it! Right now I’m working on some lieder: I’ll tell you when I’m done with them and have you take a look at the score.
ANTON: I’m flattered that you’re letting me take a look at your work, Herr Berg. I would never have the courage to let anyone take a look at mine.
THE COMPOSER: It’s a scary thing to have your art judged. After all, the audience decides in the end what it is worth.
ANTON: Felix! I didn’t think the Secession exhibition was to your tastes.
FELIX: Well, it isn’t. Do you know how many painted pairs of breasts and obscene sculptures I passed on my way here? Goodness, I deserve a medal for going through this place.
ANTON: Then why are you here?
FELIX: Heinrich sent me to remind you about the dinner gathering he’s to hold tonight. He has a business proposition for us all, or so I’ve heard.
ANTON: Interesting. Well, I must admit to you that I had forgotten, but I’ll be sure to attend.
FELIX: Right then. Goodness, there’s another disgusting work you’re staring at right there. This place is destroying my mind, I tell you. I need to get out.
ANTON: (dryly) I thought you were comfortable with this subject matter, Felix.
FELIX: Not when all the women look like disfigured cattle I’m not. You can leave this modern art to yourself, Anton.
THE COMPOSER: Well, if you feel uncomfortable I’d say the artists have done their job correctly. It’s supposed to make the viewer feel a little odd.
FELIX: Well, I’d say they’ve done their job too well. I’ll be escaping from this place now.
ANTON: Well, Herr Berg, I’m going to be taking down some notes on this frieze here. I don’t want to keep you for too long, so feel free to look around.
THE COMPOSER: Alright, then. I wish you good luck with your article!
(THE COMPOSER exits).
(As ANTON scrawls down impressions in his notebook, the curtain falls)
Back in Heinrich’s house, at the dining table.
HEINRICH: Sit down, friend, make yourself at home. This is a casual affair!
GUSTAV: (pouring himself some wine) How many people will be here?
HEINRICH: Perhaps four or five in total. It’s not much of a party, truth be told. I have a business proposition for all of you.
GUSTAV: Oh? What kind of business might this be?
HEINRICH: Well, we’ll have to wait for the others to arrive back for me to tell you! But it’s a brilliant idea, I assure you. You’ll find it of interest.
GUSTAV: You’ve made me curious, Heinrich.
HEINRICH: It’s my first step towards acting on all the notions that have been spinning around in my head. I think I might be able to have some impact with this, Gustav.
GUSTAV: Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted?
HEINRICH: Yes, damn it! I want to do something great. I want to be something great.
GUSTAV: All greatness is ephemeral, Heinrich. In the end we’re all just dust and bones.
HEINRICH: But what of our memory, now? Men will remember Napoleon for centuries! They still remember Charlemagne after more than a thousand years!
GUSTAV: But what will you know of how men remember you? You don’t believe in an afterlife, Heinrich.
HEINRICH: I suppose that’s true. But what’s the point in this all if we don’t have an impact on anyone? We’re useless, Gustav. There’s no point to any of it, to any of this misery and absurdity. We need to make ourselves worth something, damn it.
GUSTAV: This is something that has defined you.
HEINRICH: I sit on those lonely nights staring out at this cursed city, and this is what I think about. (shakes his head and chuckles). Ah, my mind wanders too much. I’ll know I’ll just go on with this life because it’s all I know, really. Do you believe in Heaven, Gustav?
GUSTAV: I once did.
HEINRICH: Why the once?
GUSTAV: I once believed in a kind and loving God. But I lived long enough on this world and I realized that He must have hated his children, to make them suffer so much for so little purpose. That was too horrible for me to believe, so I preferred to believe that there was just… nothing.
HEINRICH: But if something truly hated us beyond all imaginable belief, wouldn’t that give ourselves some purpose? I mean, if something actually cared about you enough to hate you absolutely, wouldn’t spitting in its eye be a fine purpose?
GUSTAV: A loving God and hating one aren’t so far apart, perhaps.
(FELIX and ANTON enter)
ANTON: Hello, friends!
FELIX: What’s this business proposition of yours, anyway?
HEINRICH: Sit yourselves down and stuff yourselves first! I think you’ll be more amenable to it with a full stomach.
(They sit down, chopping the roast duck and enjoying the wine)
GUSTAV: Heinrich, stop procrastinating.
HEINRICH: What? I’m just- oh, well, to hell with it! (laughs) Well, my friends, you’re looking right now at the new chief editor of “Der Welt und Vienna!”
GUSTAV: Go on, please!
HEINRICH: My father acquired the publication after it went under and the previous owners were forced to sell it. Apparently the field of anti-Semitic rags is too competitive for a second-rate paper to try to survive.
ANTON: And the paper now belongs to you?
HEINRICH: Indeed! I am both the owner and chief editor. I have printing presses, a distribution network, and offices! However, I find myself with a key lack of one thing a paper needs to function.
GUSTAV: You need writers!
HEINRICH: Yes! And what finer writers do I have than you fellows? I can write the politics section with the help of a few of my lackeys and you, Gustav. Anton can handle “Kultur und Kunst.” I’ve seen how fine your writing is; it can redeem us if the rest of the paper is terrible drivel. And you, Felix, well, you can handle the scandal and city life sections.
ANTON: (excited) And of course I will have a title, right? Chief Culture and Art Correspondent?
HEINRICH: You can have whatever title you wish! Hell, make up whichever one sounds best to you, Anton!
FELIX: Well, my parents have been pushing me to get some reasonable employment. Writing about a few of things I hear in the houses should furnish plenty of juicy material for your paper.
GUSTAV: But this paper will need readership, Heinrich. We need some unique approach to events that will build a steady base of readers for us.
HEINRICH: I have such an approach. The old paper failed because it was a bad anti-Semitic paper. This will be a good reactionary paper, now. I’ve changed the motto from some nonsense about the purity of the German race.
GUSTAV: What is it now?
HEINRICH: “Lang lebe der Kaiser und der Kaisertum Osterreich.”
GUSTAV: So we’ll be targeting the old-school conservatives? There are hardly any left, Heinrich.
HEINRICH: That is where you are wrong! We’ll be targeting those dissatisfied people from all over, like the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats are doing right now. We’ll denounce the anti-Semitic rags. It’ll be an intellectual paper. Lots of original viewpoints! If we fail in all else we should cause enough scandals to be infamous.
GUSTAV: I have a few colleagues who might be interested in contributing. I’ll ask them about it as well.
HEINRICH: Are you in, Gustav?
GUSTAV: Of course! This is a fine opportunity, and I’m glad to see you doing something that you have enthusiasm for.
HEINRICH: I feel as if this is what I was meant for. I’ve already penned several articles and had some of my friends do the same.
FELIX: I can put in a few things from my diary for a quick first issue if you all wish.
ANTON: I have more than a few art articles ready for you all. Perhaps it’s a little arrogant of me to say this, but I think I can make this paper a sensation in cultural circles if all that political business fails us.
GUSTAV: I’m sure you have the talent, young Anton. Heinrich, where are the offices located?
HEINRICH: On the Ringstrasse, near the architecture museum with the strange name that no one can remember. You know the one.
ANTON: Well, when does our employment start?
HEINRICH: Oh, there’s no official business about it all. We split the profits based on the system that was in place, but we all earn a tidy sum. I just want a regular flow of articles from you all, enough to publish biweekly.
FELIX: Well, let’s drink to it then. The official managing and editorial staff of “Der Welt und Vienna?”
ANTON: A fine notion if I’ve ever heard one.
(They toast and drink).
ANTON: Well, my friends, I have a bit of a more modest proposition for you all. I’ve been invited to a soiree of the von Babenburgs for next week, and I think I might feel dreadfully out of place if you all aren’t there.
HEINRICH: Do you have the authority to invite us?
ANTON: The hostess assured me I could invite any of my friends I wished.
FELIX: The von Babenburgs… Wait, that’s Linda’s family.
ANTON: (with a reserved air) Yes, it is. You don’t have to go if you’ll feel uncomfortable, Felix.
FELIX: Hm… Well, I never turn down an opportunity for some good food. And I believe we two could pretend to not recognize each other if it comes to that.
GUSTAV: Did this Linda invite you to the event?
ANTON: (hesitantly) Yes, she did.
GUSTAV: Do you think she’s fond of you?
ANTON: Well, we only met one night at the opera. I have a feeling she intends to use this night as her opportunity to decide.
FELIX: Tread carefully, Anton. That woman is a clever one. She certainly got the best of me.
HEINRICH: (shaking his head) So that was the woman! I should have guessed. This seems like a splendid opportunity for you, friend.
ANTON: I’m not sure if it is one. I’ve never been overly comfortable in romantic matters, in case you haven’t been able to tell. And this paper and my articles will be preoccupying me-
HEINRICH: Oh, bugger all that! I want to see you married off to a nice woman, Anton. You deserve as much.
ANTON: I don’t-
FELIX: Now, remember, there’s nothing a woman likes more than confidence. Just be bold!
GUSTAV: Love is a great part of all human experience, Anton. You should give this a chance even if you don’t feel comfortable with it.
HEINRICH: She’s pretty enough, Anton! You’d have someone to talk to about music besides us at long last!
ANTON: Well, will all of you accompany me to the function, at the very least?
FELIX: Would never turn this down! Trust me, I know how to handle these types of women. She’ll be yours in no time. A bit of wine and-
HEINRICH: (interrupting) I’ll go with you. You’ve always been there for me whenever I’ve asked a favor of you: I don’t see why I shouldn’t do the same.
GUSTAV: I’ve heard about this function, actually. There’s some interesting figures that are going to be there. I would like to speak with them: I’ll take this as my excuse to attend. I wish you good luck, young friend.
ANTON: Alright then. I just want to tell you all that you’ve been spectacular friends to me. I couldn’t ask for anyone better than you all.
HEINRICH: I’m always glad to be able to help someone, Anton. It makes me feel like I have some importance in the world.
(The curtain falls)
An opulent house on the Ringstrasse. A soiree, where the guests mingle in a grand lobby and converse while eating.
ANTON: Well, we’re here, friends. Wish me luck!
HEINRICH: That I will. Hey, isn’t that Lueger there?
GUSTAV: What would the mayor be doing in an aristocratic household?
HEINRICH: And there’s Mahler and his wife Alma! That’s the painter Klimt! And there’s that Zionist Herzl. By God, at least half of Viennese high society is in here.
GUSTAV: It seems I was right to find an excuse to attend. These are some interesting folk here.
FELIX: Politicians and artists, the lot. Well, let’s find ourselves some food before it’s all gone. I hear the cooking is excellent in this household.
(HEINRICH, GUSTAV, and FELIX exit)
ANTON: Excuse me, but do you know where I might find the hostess?
THE MAYOR: Frau von Babenburg? The elder, I assume?
ANTON: I’m sorry, I meant the younger.
THE MAYOR: Ah! Well, young man, I saw her last near the piano player chatting with a few of the musicians. What is your name?
ANTON: Anton von Allenburg. And yours?
THE MAYOR: I’m Karl Lueger. Pleased to meet you. Now, don’t go around telling everyone you’ve seen me here. People might draw certain implications.
ANTON: Well, you’re the mayor! I promise I’ll keep your presence a secret.
THE MAYOR: That’s a good man!
ANTON: I think I will have to be off. It was a pleasure meeting you, Herr Mayor.
THE MAYOR: The pleasure was all mine.
(ANTON exits, leaving THE MAYOR alone).
(THE ZIONIST, THE PSYCHOLOGIST, and THE CONDUCTOR enter)
THE AUTHOR: I’m afraid I’ll have to admit another rather major historical inaccuracy in the following segment. As I have mentioned the play takes place in about 1907 or 1908. Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement who is portrayed in the following section, died in 1904, and he did not have Vienna as his permanent residence. I took a major liberty with the history to portray him here, but I think his presence lends something key to the following scene, and I beg the audience’s forgiveness. As you might be able to guess, there’s also very little evidence all of these men attended one dinner party together, or that these men would have even wanted to attend any.
THE MAYOR: Ah, the Jews. Herr Herzl. Herr Freud. Herr Mahler.
THE ZIONIST: (with disdain) Herr Lueger.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: I cheered when the Kaiser stopped you and your ilk from seizing this city years ago. Eventually you proved too much for him. How does it feel, keeping us Jews in fear and self-hatred?
THE MAYOR: No need for such unpleasantness, now. The mob hates you, and I must follow the mob.
THE ZIONIST: Such is the folly of the people, yes. You should place yourself above the common rabble, Herr Lueger, not appeal to them. Have you any honor?
THE COMDUCTOR: I think you are quite mistaken, Herr Mayor. I am not a Jew: I became a Catholic when I arrived in this city.
THE MAYOR: But they still call you Jew, do they not? It is not what you believe, Herr Mahler, it is your blood. And your blood is that of a Semite.
THE CONDUCTOR: I love this city as much as you do, Herr Mayor. But I cannot understand its citizens sometimes. I only give them the art they want to see. Are we not all brothers in nature’s eye?
THE MAYOR: Politics is a tricky business, now. Men like to hate other men: we people of ability exploit that.
THE ZIONIST: You know, I could almost forgive you if you actually hated us like that old fool Schoenerer. At the very least he truly believed in what he said. He had some values. But you are an opportunist. You have no beliefs of your own: you shift with what the mob has to say. A true man would never follow the rabble.
THE MAYOR: I have many friends from among your people. I have no hatred for all of you. Why all the vitriol? I can stay the energy of the mob: I can keep their hatred from turning to action. You Jews should be glad to have me and not Schoenerer.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: It does not matter what you want or will. The people of Vienna still work against us in all things.
THE CONDUCTOR: Do you know, Herr Mayor, how many attacks I have suffered from the press and my audience since I moved to this city? I feel like a hated stranger in this land even after all these years.
THE ZIONIST: Such is the fate of the Jew, Herr Mahler. It is what I seek to solve.
THE MAYOR: Your schemes to move away to Palestine are a fantasy, Herzl. (Herzl’s eyes open in anger. He clenches his fists). The Jewish people are not destined to have their own state. If they are it is not in resurrecting a thousand-year dead dream.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: What of the Catholicism you promote? Another fantasy right there if there is any.
THE MAYOR: It serves a cause. It unites the Empire. It will keep this city relevant. What will happen if Vienna is left without its empire? It would crumble. I love this city as much as the rest of you. And I know my way is the only way to save it.
THE CONDUCTOR: It cannot be. Vienna cannot survive on hatred, Herr Mayor. It tears itself apart with it.
THE MAYOR: What can we do? We must always hate something.
THE ZIONIST: I cannot bear this man’s presence any longer. If you will excuse me, gentlemen. (He exits)
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: I wish you good luck in (sarcastically) steering the energies of the mob, Herr Mayor. I am afraid you will fail. The irrational is too great a sea to be steered through.
(THE PSYCHOLOGIST exits)
THE CONDUCTOR: Herr Mayor, I apologize for any earlier unpleasantness.
THE MAYOR: No, it was perfectly fine. You have every right to be angry at me. I promise you I will attend the opera someday as a gesture of support. It is not too committal an action but it could help you slightly, Herr Mahler.
THE CONDUCTOR: I would greatly appreciate that.
THE MAYOR: Well, that was a little more than I expected from this evening. Where is your darling wife Alma?
THE CONDUCTOR: Well, she was right behind me when I entered the room. I suppose she might have been intimidated by you a little. She probably knew who you were.
THE MAYOR: Alma Schindler, intimidated by me? Not likely. That woman is drawn to men of talent and power. Men like you, Herr Mahler.
THE CONDUCTOR: I should go to find her. It does not do a man well to leave his wife behind at an event like this.
THE MAYOR: Of course. Enjoy the rest of your evening.
(They all exit. FELIX enters with a glass of wine and GUSTAV at his side. FELIX is slightly intoxicated).
FELIX: (rubbing his eyes and looking at one of the crowd) That woman there. Her.
GUSTAV: What of her, Felix?
FELIX: (with hatred) Her.
GUSTAV: Someone from your past?
FELIX: (shaking his head) I should pretend I never knew her. She is the root of all my miseries, that cursed seductress.
GUSTAV: I sense an old story coming here.
FELIX: Ah, well, this is something I haven’t told to anyone but Heinrich. I feel as if I can trust you with this. There was a time when I thought a bunch of stupid things as young men always do. I thought that something like true love existed and that there were two spirits in this world destined for one another. She helped me dispose of that notion. That is the one thing I have to thank her for.
GUSTAV: You should at least tell me her name.
FELIX: (with anger) No. Never. (beat) Ah, that b****. Ethel. Ethel was her name.
GUSTAV: Talking it through usually helps, Felix. But if you don’t want to speak any further of it-
FELIX: (interrupting) No, no, I’ll tell you all about it. I was sixteen. It was only two years ago, come to think of it. It was before I met Anton and before I met you. I met her at a ball. We waltzed together. I felt like we had something special. She told me she felt so too. Oh, we were a beautiful couple for a year or so. Sometimes we even talked of being husband and wife. We seemed so happy together, always going to the balls and the dinners and the opera. Moonlight walks on the banks of the Danube, even a brief trip up to Prague together. It was all a damn lie.
GUSTAV: What did she do?
FELIX: She cheated on me, the b****. It’s one of these typical stories. I don’t want to go into the details. Like something you read out of all those piss-poor romance books.
GUSTAV: That… must have been a damaging experience for you. I suppose my fear of these things is why I try to avoid feeling too deeply.
FELIX: I think the way you live is best. You’re free of this misery that we inflict upon ourselves. (sighs) But I’m too weak to divorce myself from my senses. I started wallowing in them instead.
GUSTAV: (quietly) And she’s right there, right in front of you again. I’m sorry, Felix. We should have never brought you here.
FELIX: (takes a deep breath) I wonder what she would do if I went up to her right now. I realized after her that she was really just typical. These women are all too easily swayed by a handsome face and the thinnest veneer of charm. Stupid, frivolous, cheating bitches, the lot of them. You know, the whole womanizing façade. I started it first as a kind of experiment. I wanted to see if the ideas that had been spinning around in my head were true or not. They were. And I kept going on with it because I realized how pointless it all was. Why be a good man? Why not just indulge myself? None of it matters. None of it will ever matter, for any of us.
GUSTAV: Felix, this is not the way to live. It might all be pointless, but that is an opportunity for us. An opportunity to build some of our own meaning.
FELIX: The universe is a cold b****, isn’t it? (takes a sip of wine and groans) I think I’ll be talking to that woman. I have some unfinished business with her, after all.
GUSTAV: Good luck, Felix. I hope you put this all behind you.
FELIX: I hope so too. I might as well try to do something less useless. In truth what I do doesn’t even make me happy. You know, I take back what I said earlier. Not all women are like these stupid ones we have in this damn city. I think I’ll find myself some nice Parisian lady someday. Someone with a bit of virtue and sophistication. Settle down and forget all this.
(FELIX and GUSTAV exit).
(LINDA enters, with HEINRICH)
HEINRICH: I have a question for you. How the hell do you manage to gather every important person in Vienna in this house on one night, and without them slitting each other’s throats?
LINDA: It is easier than it seems. Some good food, a little wine, and a few diversions go far towards defusing any tensions. The house itself is laid out so that men who want to avoid each other can, in fact.
HEINRICH: You have several different lobbies, dining rooms, and serving tables. I suppose that people who can stand each other will usually stay together, right?
LINDA: Indeed. Where is your friend Anton? I’m assuming he invited you here?
HEINRICH: He was looking for you earlier. Linda, I should- (He stops himself) This roast pig you have is quite excellent. Goes along with the wine quite well.
LINDA: Were you going to tell me something, Heinrich?
HEINRICH: I have a feeling you know it already.
LINDA: I have a feeling that I do as well. Little gets past me, Herr Gerhard. Especially in my own household.
HEINRICH: I have to ask a favor of you, Fraulein.
LINDA: You may ask it, of course.
HEINRICH: Treat dear Anton kindly, would you? The boy has suffered through much in his life. He’s a good man, a far better one than I am.
LINDA: I will try my best, Herr Gerhard. He seems like a kind man.
HEINRICH: Usually. You don’t want to suffer his contempt.
LINDA: I doubt I will.
ANTON: Linda! I’ve been looking for you for the past thirty minutes!
LINDA: What, and you didn’t even bother to treat yourself to a little wine? Sit down! Let me have the servants fetch you something. I’m glad to see you and your friends here.
ANTON: Oh, no need. I don’t usually drink very much. Some food would be pleasing, though.
HEINRICH: I’ll leave you two alone. There’s some people at this gathering I’ve been longing to talk to.
LINDA: Take care, Herr Gerhard.
(ANTON sits down, not quite at ease)
ANTON: The musicians at this gathering are quite excellent. Who are they?
LINDA: Oh, they are my dear brothers. I’m surprised they measure up to your standards. They haven’t been playing more than five years.
ANTON: I wasn’t aware you had that many siblings.
LINDA: Now, that’s knowledge my father wouldn’t want getting out, if you know what I mean.
ANTON: (laughing) Of course. Natural sons?
LINDA: And a natural daughter or two in there.
ANTON: But you’re the only child of the lady in this household?
LINDA: I am. My father and my mother never had much love for each other. Mother tells me I was conceived when father came back drunk and happy from one of his other liaisons. He’s never gone back to her bedroom since.
ANTON: I’m sorry to hear that. Well, you’ve probably heard all about this, but I never had much of a family growing up. My mother died after a miscarriage; my father was killed in a fire.
LINDA: So you were an orphan of sorts?
ANTON: I had plenty of servants and tutors to dote over me. I don’t think I’ve suffered quite enough to claim that title. I was always master of the house and the finances, at least in name.
LINDA: You were a bit of an independent youth, then. I’ve taken care of this household since I was able to write. Father’s been too drunk to carry out most of the household duties and my mother’s a typical stupid Viennese. Everything I do is done in my father’s name, though. It wouldn’t do for a woman to be managing the household.
ANTON: You seem to do a fine job of it, if I’m going to judge by the number of important people you have in this house.
LINDA: I try my best, Anton. Let’s see if any fighting breaks out at this soiree.
ANTON: With Felix and Heinrich around it very well might. Give both a little wine. The latter will supply some insulting remark and the former will supply an actual assault.
LINDA: (laughs) I saw your friend Felix walking about. He seemed to have gotten a little tipsy already.
ANTON: He’s a fiend when it comes to wine and women. Heinrich introduced him to me two years ago: he was quite different then. Something changed him.
LINDA: An unpleasant woman, most likely. We have a unique capacity for tormenting you men sometimes.
ANTON: Are you saying that we men don’t have the same capacity?
LINDA: Hmm. Well, most of the time a man can’t really get underneath our skin. Well, he might beat us and call us names but it never really breaks us inside if we’re strong. You know how to break bones; we know how to break something deeper than that.
ANTON: Some men know how to break both. I don’t think I know how to do either.
LINDA: Really? You don’t really need the former once you have the latter. It has far greater of an effect.
ANTON: Why do I feel like you have a little experience with this?
LINDA: Oh, I don’t, really. These are the things I see in this world.
ANTON: I’d say your observations are quite correct. What do you see in me?
LINDA: An artist that isn’t stupid for a change. (laughs) You know how people think of you art lovers. They think you a lot of foolish neurotics that swoon over ever little beating of the heart.
ANTON: Well, you have the neurotic part right. I’d like to think I’m not a fool though compared to my friends I often feel like one.
LINDA: No great artists are stupid, Anton.
ANTON: Well, I’m not much of a great artist, truth be told.
LINDA: I’d love to see you as one eventually. In fact, I’m sure you will be one eventually.
ANTON: Great artists often have muses, don’t they? What kind of art would I make, anyway?
LINDA: I don’t think you’d like to compose, would you?
ANTON: No, too many men have far more talent in that than I do. You know, maybe I should be a writer. I’ve always liked writing about music anyway. Perhaps I should pen a novel, or something. Maybe even a play. (He is silent for a moment). You know, I feel like the escapades of my friends and I would make for a fine play. No, it would be far too boring.
LINDA: Why don’t you give it a try? I’d enjoy reading any of your efforts.
ANTON: Perhaps I will. (looking at the hung paintings on the walls) These prints you have on your walls: did you select them?
LINDA: I’ve selected all the décor in this household. Each room is themed somehow: this one is dedicated to those French Impressionists.
ANTON: Those Impressionists always want to create works that are a little beyond reality. A little dreamlike, now. The artist paints an effect, not an image. I’ve always been fond of them. Art should always be about projecting something beyond what we see. Maybe escaping it, maybe projecting the purest version of it. Those Realists were disgusting, now. No creativity, no artistic spirit. Why paint the things we see every day?
LINDA: Maybe it’s because the painter wants to make us think about them. We see so much, but we take in so little of all of it. They focus on the things we don’t notice: it’s another way of transcending reality.
ANTON: (smiles) That’s a fine defense if I’ve ever heard one. Do you think there’s good art and bad art, Linda?
LINDA: Well, yes. Bad art is shoddily constructed and says nothing. Good art might also be shoddily constructed but it always tries at the very least to say something. Mediocre art is always well constructed, but it always says nothing.
ANTON: So you think art should be judged for expression? Or at least an attempt at it?
LINDA: I suppose you could put it that way.
ANTON: (nods slowly) You know, you always seem to have something interesting to say about these things.
LINDA: I’m not any more interesting than you, I’m afraid. Some would find us and the things we talk about dreadfully boring.
ANTON: Well, then let us bore each other, and leave the world to enjoy itself in all its vapid emptiness.
LINDA: I would dearly like that, Anton. Write that play of yours, please.
ANTON: I’ll start on it after tonight, I promise. Perhaps we should find a date to meet again? In a more private setting, please? I don’t do well with all these important people running about.
LINDA: Today is as fine a date as any. The city looks beautiful at this hour, Anton. Perhaps the balcony will be a fine place to view it.
ANTON: I believe that it will.
(She takes his hand. ANTON and LINDA exit).
(The curtain falls. END OF ACT I)
A packed lecture hall at the University.
GUSTAV: Good morning, good morning to all of you! Today’s lecture will be about some events that I’m sure many of you are familiar with: the war between this Reich and the Kingdom of Prussia about forty years ago. Now, I will be starting the lecture with this question: why was the war fought?
(None of the students answer)
GUSTAV: I am awaiting an answer from any of you. If you’re afraid of criticism, don’t be. This is not about the correct answer.
LEOS: It was fought to establish Prussian hegemony over the German states.
GUSTAV: We have our first answer. Any others?
ISTVAN: We fought it to defend Holstein against Prussian aggression!
ARTIST: It was fought as a war to unite all Germans. A goal, I say, which has not been accomplished yet!
GUSTAV: I would appreciate it if we kept political sentiments out of this lecture hall today, thank you very much.
ARTIST: (ignoring Gustav) For too long we Germans have chafed under the weight of this corpse of an empire! The Slavs and the Magyars bring us down! There is no empire that can include those degenerate peoples! No, we must join the greater Reich, the superior Reich! We must leave this dead dream behind!
GUSTAV: (with uncharacteristic sarcasm) I was not aware that Schoenerer was alive and in this classroom. Would you please sit down, now?
ARTIST: You have no authority over me, Jew. We should send your kind back to the barren desert from whence they came! I say, that one day a strong, true German will come to rule in these lands. A great man, who will purify and cleanse this disgusting land. Make it safe living space for the German people!
(There is a clamor from the students, some yelling in support and others denouncing the student violently).
GUSTAV: I have perfect authority to expel you from this classroom and this institution if need have it. Now, sit down. I dislike using arbitrary authority as much as you dislike being subjected to it.
ARTIST: It’s only the corrupt Liberals that run this school that would give a Jew like you a teaching job. Corrupting our German youth with your Semitic ideals. Are you teaching them the value of usury now? I’ve read those Protocols, you know. I know how you intend to seize this world-
GUSTAV: (angered) Leave this classroom. Now!
ARTIST: (laughing) Filthy Untermensch. Did your banker relatives help you win this job? Pay a little of that Jew gold for you to find your way into this lecture hall?
GUSTAV: (regaining control of himself) (said over repeated cries of “Jew!” from the ARTIST) Now, the real purpose of today’s lesson was to demonstrate how interpretations of recent historical events are clouded by the perspective of contemporary politics on them. When we study ancient Rome, we have little stake in how the events are interpreted. Perhaps some more radical historians may try to fit the events into their framework to support their views, but in the general, ideological bias plays far smaller of an effect. More recent events, however, are seized upon by various causes and interpreted in various fashions. If we take history to mean the documentation of all things that have happened up to this point, we find many highly contentious events in contemporary politics as history, and it is according to this definition that I conduct all my historical studies.
ARTIST: You cannot ignore me, Jew! Your people will burn one day, burn, I say!
GUSTAV: (ignoring him) Now, the Seven Weeks War, as I will call it, is most certainly not a greatly recent event. However, there are still some alive that remember it. There are three main approaches to looking at the war: one from a rational and geopolitical standpoint and the other two from nationalistic or ideologically influenced standpoints. All three have just been stated by various students in this classroom. There is a fourth-
ARTIST: (simultaneously with the lecture) Your reckoning will be at hand soon, Jew! Your degenerate race will be driven from these lands! Your banks will be shut down! Your stolen gold will be returned to the German people! You will be driven from the high halls! Your corruption of politics will be cleansed, yes, cleansed! You will suffer fire, fire and death! Jew! Listen to me! Jew! You cannot ignore me! Christ-killer! Child mutilator! How much have you stolen from hardworking Germans? How much did your ancestors steal?
GUSTAV: (with barely suppressed anger) Would one of the honest students in this classroom do me the favor of escorting that man out?
(LEOS kicks the ARTIST. With a final cry of “Untermensch!” he runs off stage).
GUSTAV: Now, of these three approaches, I must tell you all that I have a clear preference for the first: the idea that the Kingdom of Prussia sought to expand its hegemony amongst the German states, not for any sake of uniting the German people, but to expand its own power and to dominate the German Confederation. It seems to me to be the most logical way to explain the events: if any of you can put forth a logical explanation as to another explanation I will be happy to read it. After all, that is the point of history. And indeed, it is arguable that German unification was the end goal of Prussia: not for the sake of some ideal of unification alone but as a necessary course of action for Prussia, through the leadership of Germany, to become a world power.
ISTVAN: So it was a war of aggression, then? A war against Austria to expand Prussian power?
GUSTAV: That seems to be reasonably arguable, yes. The Prussians were generous victors, as they wished for Austria to not become a bitter enemy of their new state. But it ended effectively the role of Austria as leader amongst the German states. And it forced Austria into its current state of dual monarchy, which- (He stops, and stares vacantly at an object in the distance)
ISTVAN: Professor? Are you alright? Professor?
GUSTAV: (shaking his head) I- I am not feeling too well. I apologize, students, but I will have to end this lecture here. Read the third chapter in your textbook for the necessary material! (He runs outside the lecture hall, ISTVAN following behind)
ISTVAN: Professor! Professor! Do you need help?
GUSTAV: No, no, it’s quite alright, Istvan. Just a little tea and a little rest is all I need.
ISTVAN: Was it that man?
GUSTAV: He was- Istvan, I’ve faced plenty of people who have hated me for what I’m not before. But none of them have affected me as deeply as that man. There was such hatred in him, such passion as I’ve never seen before. I felt as if I was seeing the Devil himself when I saw him, such was his power.
ISTVAN: I’ll find out who that man was for you. The university has changed since my first years.
GUSTAV: On the contrary, I believe it has stayed the same. You’ve just come to notice some things about it.
ISTVAN: This is ridiculous, Professor Bonhardt. You’re one of the best we have here. You shouldn’t have to suffer this abuse.
GUSTAV: I take my suffering with acceptance, Istvan.
ISTVAN: This city has gone mad. The whole empire has gone mad.
GUSTAV: The whole world has gone mad, if you look at it from a certain angle. (walking away) I will see you tomorrow, Istvan. Good luck with finding the identity of that man. And take care.
ISTVAN: I will, Professor.
A newspaper office on the Ringstrasse. The interior is messy, with printing presses, typewriters, and papers strewn about. At the center sitting on a chair is Heinrich, smoking a pipe and waiting patiently.
HEINRICH: Damn. And it seems that Felix has forgotten his article. It was a good thing I planned for that possibility, a damn good thing.
FELIX: Heinrich! I have my first article. About troubles between Mahler and his wife. I made up some details and took rumors to supply the rest. Fine material for a scandal article.
HEINRICH: You bastard! We’re printing in half an hour! Get it in quickly, before we start rolling the first papers off the presses!
FELIX: I’m sorry! Quality work takes time, you know.
HEINRICH: Is what you’ve put out quality work?
FELIX: I put my best effort into it, if that’s what you’re asking! I actually went and interviewed a few folk, you know. This isn’t all just coffeehouse talk.
HEINRICH: Well, that was beyond what I expected of you already. (sighs) Do you think the paper will sell?
FELIX: We have a few good articles from the university professors that Gustav managed to get on. And your segments should cause enough of a stir for us to get far more sales on the next issue. Anton’s art reviews are a solid addition. We should be able to cover costs at the very least.
HEINRICH: (relieved) Well, that’s all we really need. You know, I wonder what they’ll label our paper. Seems a bit reactionary to me right now, honestly. Not that it was what I was going for, but having “Lang Lebe Der Kaiser” as your motto tends to swing things a certain way.
FELIX: Bah! We should have something radical in our paper, something that will make us infamous. Something that will make us the talk of Vienna.
HEINRICH: I feel as if you might have an idea, Felix.
FELIX: That psychoanalyst on the Berggasse. That Freud. He has some interesting ideas, now, liable to cause plenty of scandal if they’re written about in the right style. I think I should go see him sometime. See how his psychoanalysis really works.
HEINRICH: Sounds like a good idea for your next article. You know, I have to admit that you’re dedicating far more time and effort to this paper than I’d expected of you.
FELIX: I’ve reformed, Heinrich. The whorehouses have lost their luster for me. I’m a little restless about everything now.
HEINRICH: I feel as if I shouldn’t believe you and yet I do. Is the young boy I knew coming back from the hedonist, now?
FELIX: He was always there, Heinrich. Just shielded a little.
HEINRICH: Hell, in the day you were even more of a romantic than young Anton was. What was that girl’s name?
FELIX: (uncomfortably) Oh, yes, her. Yes, I met her again at the soiree the other night. I hadn’t told you about this yet.
HEINRICH: Well, how is she doing now? I gather that she’s not working at some cheap whorehouse at the very least if she was at that gathering.
FELIX: No, she’s working at an expensive one now. Started out with a cheap one after her father kicked her out of the household after one liaison too many.
HEINRICH: (laughing) You were telling me you expected to see her at one someday. I thought the wine was influencing your thoughts a little at the time.
FELIX: It seemed to make me see a little more clearly. Anyway, Heinrich, I’ll rush off to the presses. I should get this article in.
HEINRICH: Of course! Move quickly, you rascal!
(As FELIX exits, GUSTAV enters)
GUSTAV: Heinrich. I’ve been… troubled by something lately.
HEINRICH: What’s the matter, Gustav? Sit down, please! You look pale.
(GUSTAV sits, and covers his face with his hand)
GUSTAV: There was this man today. He came to my lecture, started disrupting it with all these anti-Semitic remarks. You know I don’t usually let myself be affected by these things, but he made me angry as I’ve never been before. I lost control of myself.
HEINRICH: (with concern) The old Stoic broke down, didn’t he?
GUSTAV: Yes. I thought I’d completely divorced myself from being too strongly affected by my emotions. It seems I was wrong. They still control me as much as they do young Felix.
HEINRICH: What was so troubling about the man?
GUSTAV: I sensed something terrible in him, Heinrich. You know I don’t believe in the supernatural, but I felt like there was some demon in him, something that granted him terrible power but made him mad all the while.
HEINRICH: Do you know who he was, at the very least? Was he even a student?
GUSTAV: Apparently not. One of my students filed a complaint with the police. The man turned out to be an unemployed artist of some sort who’s been living on the streets. He’s been disrupting numerous lectures from my Jewish colleagues, apparently.
HEINRICH: Wait, I think I’ve met this man before.
GUSTAV: You have? Where?
HEINRICH: Well, six months ago, Anton, Felix, and I went to an opera. Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. He came to us, said his ticket had been stolen by gypsies. I gave him a little money to buy a new one. There was something very odd about him, but he was polite enough to us.
GUSTAV: What a strange coincidence. (pausing) Heinrich, do you ever feel as if we’re characters in someone else’s design? As if someone else is constructing a narrative around our life, of sorts?
HEINRICH: Well, there’s a narrative for most of us. It’s the one where we all see ourselves as the hero.
GUSTAV: No, I mean that we are significant somehow, that something has chosen to focus on us and manipulate our lives for its own purposes.
HEINRICH: Why us? What makes us interesting, now? Why not focus on Franz Joseph and Lueger and Wilhelm? All those important folk?
GUSTAV: Maybe that’s why we were chosen. Because we weren’t important. Because we were normal people seeing a normal life. You know, we historians focus on great men, great things, great events. We never bother to focus on how the common man was living, what he did, what his role in things was.
HEINRICH: Perhaps that’s something for you to address, then! I think your articles will be quite a success. They were certainly better written than mine. “Reform in the System- A Necessity for Survival!” That’s damn agitation if I’ve ever written any.
GUSTAV: Agitation seems to be the rule of the day. It’s more sensible than most of the other agitation around, at least.
HEINRICH: Huh! Well, we don’t want to get the people too angry over all of this. Remember how that rough Schönerer went in and gave the staff of a newspaper he didn’t like a good beating once?
GUSTAV: Yes. I also seem to recall that he was charged, stripped of his noble title, tossed into jail, and banned from politics shortly afterwards.
HEINRICH: A just fate if there ever was one. Lueger might be a slippery and untrustworthy bastard but at least he’s a sensible one. That Schönerer was a mad dog.
GUSTAV: (sighs) These men have gotten me to wondering. No matter how hard I try, I will never truly be German as I think I am. I am eternally a Jew. My culture, language, thought, self-perception, none of them matter. My blood outweighs all. And yet I know nothing of this thing that they label me as. I am not a Jew. I cannot be one.
HEINRICH: (sympathetically) Those bastards might think so. But you’re as much a German as the rest of us, Gustav. When I first met you I never thought of you as a Jew: hell, you don’t even look all that much like one. You were one of the damn smartest Austrians I’ve ever met. You’re still that to me. It’s an absurd distinction these men make. They need something to hate. Why not hate worthy of hate, like those cursed Magyar landlords?
GUSTAV: What’s that thing that Lueger said once? “Wer Jude ist, bestimme ich.” I wish that was true.
HEINRICH: It’s more accurate to say “bestimme uns,” unfortunately. This is why we shouldn’t let the masses make policy. Look at the strides your people were making under Kaiser Joseph! An enlightened ruler, there, a good man who did best for his subjects. Those fools will tear themselves to pieces. The mob’s too shortsighted to know what’s best for them in truth.
GUSTAV: I wish I could have faith in the common man. It seems my circumstances have forced me into a distrust of him instead.
HEINRICH: You’re a good enough man that it hasn’t turned into a contempt of him like it has for me.
GUSTAV: Maybe it’s something about this empire. Maybe the ethnic tensions exaggerate the proportions of these hatreds-
HEINRICH: (interrupting) It is the same everywhere. Remember Dreyfus?
GUSTAV: I will never forget.
HEINRICH: Think of the pogroms in Russia, too. It is the same everywhere. People are damned fools.
FELIX: Heinrich, the printing is ready.
HEINRICH: Get the newboys ready to start selling them on the street! Have them on the busiest corners and make sure they yell louder than all those fools from the other papers!
FELIX: After this I will go to see that Freud fellow.
HEINRICH: Make something interesting out of it, Felix.
FELIX: I believe that I can.
(The curtain falls)
A park in Vienna. In the center there is a bench, upon which ALMA MAHLER sits.
LINDA: Alma! What a fine coincidence to meet you here!
ALMA: It’s been long since our last meeting, Linda. What have you been busy with?
LINDA: I was going to ask you the same question. How is Herr Mahler?
ALMA: Busy as always with rehearsal and composition. I feel as if he has little time for the children and me.
LINDA: Of course, how could I forget to ask about Maria and Anna? How are they?
ALMA: They’re rambunctious little children as always. Maria is growing quickly. But how have you been occupying yourself? I heard you were seeing that Allenburg boy?
LINDA: (shyly) Oh, yes. He’s a nice young man. Has news of us two gotten out?
ALMA: What? You two have been the talk of the city for the past three months? Do you read any of the papers anymore?
LINDA: Are we in the gossip columns? I never bother to read those.
ALMA: It’s more than gossip, alright. He’s one of the richest young men in Vienna, and you’re set to be one of the richest young women.
LINDA: Wealth has nothing to do with it all, dear Alma. Do people speak favorably of us?
ALMA: Much more favorably than they did of Mahler and I, that’s for sure. Do you think this Anton’s a great man?
LINDA: He might be, but I know he’s a good one. Shouldn’t that be enough?
ALMA: Well, you know my taste in men. I wouldn’t have fallen in love with Herr Mahler if I didn’t know he was great. But sometimes I wish I married someone more plain, you know. Some more ordinary man with a few less ambitions.
LINDA: You were telling me that he wouldn’t let you compose!
ALMA: Yes, I’ve always been a little sad about that. There’s only room for one composer in the family, he says. I feel like reminding him that his reputation is as a conductor.
LINDA: Now that’s a mean sentiment if I’ve ever heard one! Why shouldn’t there be two great Mahlers in this world?
ALMA: Well, you tell that to him. He’s a strong-willed one, he is. Well, I don’t like talking about myself too much. I suppose that you like this Anton. People were speculating that someone had arranged you two.
LINDA: The only arranger was me. He had a good head on his shoulders: that was quite enough to interest me.
ALMA: There’s plenty of talented and smart men in this city, Linda. What makes him special?
LINDA: Well, I feel as if he has a bit of a heart unlike half of them, and he’s not a slave to it like the other half.
ALMA: You know, sometimes I wonder which half Herr Mahler falls into. He can be quite loving sometimes, but he always seems to think of himself first.
LINDA: Maybe he’s just a little troubled. The press have been quite violent on their attacks on him.
ALMA: You know, that’s definitely a reason. He’s told me that he loves this city and hates it. It can see that it takes its toll on him.
LINDA: It takes its toll on all of us. You know how difficult it is to get the things I want done as a woman, Alma? How difficult it is to run the household not under my name?
ALMA: I can understand perfectly well. There’s little room in this world for thinking people and even less for thinking women.
LINDA: Far less. You and I understand this the best of all people.
ALMA: Indeed. Out of all of these people, we have our wits about us, don’t we? (looking at her watch) Oh, but it does look like I’ll have to be leaving now! The children will be expecting me back home! Anyway, it was nice speaking to you again, Linda. Do you have anything planned at your household this month?
LINDA: We might be holding a ball. But I’ll be sure to tell you more about it once I have the details worked out.
ALMA: Do keep me informed! I would be delighted to attend.
LINDA: And I would be delighted to see you! Take care, Alma.
ALMA: Good luck with that Anton, Linda.
(ANTON enters just as ALMA goes off-stage)
ANTON: Linda! Was that Alma Mahler?
LINDA: Oh, yes! We’ve known each other for three years: I met her at one of my family’s soirees when she was still Alma Schindler.
ANTON: You seem to know a deal of important people, dear.
LINDA: You haven’t noticed that already? Comes with being a rich and decently social, Anton.
ANTON: Well, I’m plenty rich. Not much social, though.
LINDA: We’ll be changing that soon! We’ll have to host a ball, Anton.
ANTON: In my house? What? I don’t know anything about hosting guests!
LINDA: I can teach you plenty! (ruffles his hair) Don’t be worried about this! It’ll let people see us in public!
ANTON: Well, I’ve always thought romance shouldn’t be a spectacle.
LINDA: Why do you like music, then? It’s all about making spectacle!
ANTON: I suppose that’s true. And I suppose the press is making enough of a spectacle out of us already.
LINDA: Oh, the gutter press! We’re their darlings now, aren’t we? The most charming young couple in Vienna?
ANTON: Would you call me charming?
LINDA: You have plenty of charm, Anton. Not the sleazy sort that most people think of, though.
ANTON: I’ll try to put on all of it if I’m to be a host. You know I’ve always been quite lonely.
LINDA: What about all your friends at the paper?
ANTON: I mean, I have plenty of friends, but I’ve never been comfortable around important people like the sort we’ll have.
LINDA: Well, if you pretend to be confident it will eventually come. And you’ll be the man of the house! You’ll have to learn all about this eventually.
ANTON: Somehow I feel as if having the woman of the house manage these things might actually work out a little better for everyone.
LINDA: Well, this is what people expect of us, Anton!
ANTON: Well, good artists don’t care much about what people expect of them, now.
LINDA: We’re socialites, not artists. What people expect of us is everything.
ANTON: I do hate disappointing people. Well, tell me about the plans you have for this ball.
LINDA: It shouldn’t be too large of an affair. Only about two hundred guests or so.
ANTON: That already goes past my definition of a small affair.
LINDA: Well, I’ve have the family and family friends and I suppose you’ll invite your friends. Other men and women won’t be able to resist coming along either. I think we should plan for about two hundred or so.
ANTON: We’ll be renting out a ballroom, won’t we? I’m sure you have somewhere in mind.
LINDA: Yes: there’s a place the family always uses near the Hofburg.
ANTON: Alright. I suppose this will be the first time we two are seen as a couple officially.
LINDA: Not that it’ll make much difference. The park is pleasant today, Anton. We should walk together.
ANTON: (taking her hand) Alright, then. You know, this city really is something grand sometimes. So many of the greatest people of this day and age, all here in one place.
LINDA: It is an imperial city. And an artistic one, too. Really, it’s perfect for people like us.
ANTON: Do you think it’ll always be like this, Linda?
LINDA: I certainly hope it will be.
ANTON: I don’t ever want to let this go. What will the world have come to, to lose something like this?
LINDA: You know, we two are really quite typically Viennese. So obsessed with all this art and culture, all the pomp and frills. Your friends are a different sort. Men of the world that we’re going to see this become.
ANTON: I suppose that’s why we’re together, isn’t it?
LINDA: It really is. (She kisses him). Let’s go, dear. Let’s see the best that this world has to give us now.
A small apartment, with two chairs in the center, and a desk in between. Towards the side is a small couch. Along the walls are Expressionistic paintings. Towards the back a small window shines sunlight into the room: otherwise the room is dark.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: So, here to seem me for a psychoanalysis session, aren’t you? You’re a journalist?
FELIX: Of a sort, yes. It’s only been my career for the past few months.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: Hmm. What were you before that?
FELIX: A rogue. Plenty of money to live off from my parents. Plenty of brothels to frequent.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: Interesting, interesting. Well, we begin all these sessions with a simple step: lie down on that couch over there. Relax yourself.
FELIX: (He follows THE PSYCHOLOGIST’s instructions). Should I close my eyes?
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: That would be helpful, yes. (THE PSYCHOLOGIST produces a small notebook). Well, let us begin with a few questions. Tell me about the dream you had last night.
FELIX: Wait, what?
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: You heard me correctly. Tell me about the dream you had last night.
FELIX: Don’t remember a damn thing about it.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: Well, what is the last one you remember?
FELIX: Um, I don’t usually dream…
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: You have my promise that everything you tell me in these sessions will be kept absolutely confidential. This notebook is for my eyes only.
FELIX: Alright. You seem like a trustworthy fellow. Well, it was a dream, and it didn’t make much sense. In fact, it was a bit of a memory. I was with my parents by the Danube one day. I remember it clearly: it was when I was eight. But in the dream I saw them dead, floating in the water stained red with blood.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: Mm. Interesting. Much to go off of there. An old childhood memory, surfacing as a dream, but distorted?
FELIX: Something like that, yes.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: What was your relation with your parents like?
FELIX: Never really had all that much of one. The reason I remember that moment so clearly is because it was one of the few moments we spent together. And even though my father and mother acted as cold towards me as they ever did after, they and I at least pretended to be happy for that moment.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: Was there a reason that they were so cold towards you?
FELIX: They never wanted me. They wanted to live out their lives in vapid misery. I was a bit of an accident, truth be told. For my life they thought throwing enough money at me would make me happy.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: Did you find yourself favoring one parent over the other? Did you, perhaps, find yourself fonder of one?
FELIX: I liked my father more. He was blunter about the way he acted towards me than my mother was.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: Interesting. Interesting. Did you ever recall your parents coming into any sort of physical contact with you?
FELIX: What do you mean by that?
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: Well, were they very affectionate? Did they ever touch you?
FELIX: Um, no. I’m not sure where this is going, Herr Freud.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: In a rather different direction than I had expected.
FELIX: They call you a libertine of sorts, you know.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: I know what nonsense they say about me. I am a scientist and a physician, not a pornographer. (sighs) Well, that did not go far. Tell me about your first love.
FELIX: I’d rather not, if you gave me the courtesy-
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: If you are to proceed with this session, you must be completely open with me.
FELIX: Well, we fell in love when we were young and stupid. I was dispelled of my romantic notions when she found a better-looking gentleman and proceeded to fall in love desperately with him.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: Hmph. Tell me about the dream you actually had last night, now.
FELIX: You can’t possibly…
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: I know when one of my patients is hiding something from me. Tell me everything. Remember, what is told to me in these sessions stays with me.
FELIX: I saw her in the dream. It was something quite mad. She was completely naked, holding a bloody knife and thrusting it into me over and over again. My blood was staining all over the white sheets I was on- and her skin- by the time she was finished her face was this maddened shade of crimson. I woke at the moment of my death.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: Thank you. Much to work off of there. You know the importance of dreams, don’t you?
FELIX: I must confess that I don’t. Isn’t a dream just a moment of madness?
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: Well, we men are all quite mad inside. What a dream shows us is our true self: our impulses stripped free of any restraint or suppression. What you dream tells you more truths about yourself than any reason ever will.
FELIX: That has some sense to it.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: Well, your dream. What can you say about it?
FELIX: It was a sort of lust-murder, I think. The type of thing you hear about in the gutter press-
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: No, you don’t understand. What does it say about yourself?
FELIX: I suppose that whatever she caused me still hasn’t left me. She’s still there, even when I’m awake, in some dark corner of my mind waiting to tempt me and wound me. And to forget about her and to force her back into that corner I try everything.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: You almost sound as if you don’t need my help. Now, the traumas we experience when we are young are the ones that remain with us: for most of my patients, childhood memories shape their neuroses and fears. For you, well, you were a little older.
FELIX: Not much wiser.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: Are you any more so now?
FELIX: (snorts) Probably not.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: A final little question for this session. What is the last pleasant dream you’ve had? I need to get both sides of the picture before I make my final assessments.
FELIX: (thinks for a moment) Hmm. Well, it must have been the one I had two weeks ago. I was with my friends somewhere, an old castle up in the mountains. It was this beautiful wreck of a castle: everything was overgrown and decaying, but it was still the most majestic thing I’ve ever seen. And the four of us were just exploring, taking in the sights, joking and adventuring together. No one else to disturb us; nothing else to bother me. No opium dens or brothels or former lovers with bloody knives. No people besides us: just us, all alone, the rest of the world forgotten. It was probably the best dream I’ve ever had, actually. It almost made me want to just flee into the mountains, be away from all this.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: Never figured you for a solitary man.
FELIX: Every man has more than a few sides to him, Herr Freud.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: That much is true. Well, I think that you see this world as it is, and that you don’t actually care much for the life you lead. No, I think there’s something else that you care about deeply that gives you all the joy in your life.
FELIX: I think I know what you speak of. (pauses). My friends have always been there for me. I hope that I am there for them when they need me.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: A sort of surrogate family, they are? It is good for you that you have had them. You might be much like my other patients if you did not.
FELIX: I must tell you that I was expecting this meeting to proceed quite differently. I trusted a little more in what the gutter presses said than I should have.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: (chuckling) I’m only a scientist. One last question before I let you go. So how did you come to find yourself writing for what appears to be a sophisticated political and cultural paper? (shows a copy of Der Welt to FELIX)
FELIX: Well, my friend is the chief editor of the newspaper and he offered me a job. I wanted to start becoming respectable, so I took it. You’ve heard of us?
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: A few times. Some of my acquaintances have spoken of your paper. It seems you’ve already taken steps to resolve your problems, and you’ve identified them quite well. Why see me?
FELIX: I’ve heard many things about you. I thought I might see you for myself and make my own judgments.
THE PSYCHOLGOIST: I’m glad that you gave me the opportunity. For some reason I feel as if you won’t be back for another one of these sessions.
FELIX: I think I have most of my business in order at this point. (sits up from the couch) It’s been a pleasure seeing you, Herr Freud.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: Likewise, Herr Fuchs. I hope that you and your friends come back to visit me some day. I think that I would appreciate your company.
FELIX: I will be sure to pay you a call if we have any time. And Herr Freud-
THE PSYCHOLOGIST: Yes?
FELIX: You’ve done me more help than I could have ever imagined. Thank you.
(FELIX exits, leaving THE PSYCHOLOGIST alone in darkness).
A few months later, back at the newspaper offices. HEINRICH, ANTON, LINDA, FELIX, and GUSTAV are all present, celebrating six months of reasonably successful publication. The room is clean, and a table of food is laid out at the center, upon which the cast sits around.
HEINRICH: Fifty thousand copies sold, in total! What do you think of that, friends? Quite respectable, don’t you think?
LINDA: Your paper’s caused more talk than you might imagine, Herr Fuchs. At least in my household, they’ve bought a few issues just to argue about them.
HEINRICH: All the better, then! The more controversial we become the more people will want to read and see what the deal is! Well, Anton, I haven’t seen you in a few weeks! How have you been?
ANTON: Quite well, thank you. Have you received my articles? And the fragment of the thing I’ve been writing?
HEINRICH: Oh, yes! It’s an interesting work, I must say. But I’m a little offended by the way you’ve portrayed me! I seem like some great buffoon obsessed with provoking the masses!
FELIX: Well, Heinrich…
ANTON: I assure you that the characters weren’t wholly based on us, Heinrich. They would be far too confusing and contradictory if they were. Well, it’s only half of the play, I’m afraid. I think I might be starting on a new project sometime soon.
LINDA: You haven’t even told me about this, Anton.
ANTON: (embarrassed) Oh, I was planning to tell you after I was done. Give myself some motivation to finish. You know I haven’t actually finished a single one of my longer works? Imagine that, an author who hasn’t finished any novels.
HEINRICH: Well, I think we can print part of your play in the newspaper as a sample if you want it. You’re completely responsible for the Culture section, after all.
GUSTAV: I assume that it’s been the only part of our paper to not attract some kind of negative attention.
ANTON: You would be surprised! I had little idea how foolish people could get over music until I published that article defending Mahler. It seems that politics is something that I can’t quite avoid, no matter how hard I try.
GUSTAV: You know there’s rumors he’s planning to leave, Anton?
LINDA: I’ve heard from Alma. He’s suffered some bad shocks. Especially after his younger daughter died, bless her soul.
GUSTAV: Bless his as well. The man has suffered far more than any other of my people in this city. Who knew that opera conducting could be made into a matter of politics?
HEINRICH: Well, that sounds like a good opportunity to write something of note! You and Anton would work well together on a special feature.
GUSTAV: I would prefer that we waited until the rumors were more than rumors for us to start dealing in speculation. You know I prefer the facts, Heinrich.
HEINRICH: You and your historian’s habits! Well, let’s not be shy. Come and enjoy some of the food, now! I had my servants work overtime for this. Paid them a good deal extra. I was in a good mood, so I figured I could let them enjoy themselves as well. Oh, Felix, I must congratulate you on that Freud feature.
FELIX: It was my pleasure. Herr Freud was a fascinating man. He’s helped me change my ways.
ANTON: I must tell you a truth, Felix. I didn’t approve of much of what you did when I first met you. But Heinrich told me you were a good man, and I trusted him. I thought I saw plenty of good in you too. I’m happy that I’ve been proven right.
FELIX: Oh, don’t say that yet. I had a little too much wine yesterday again. But it was just a little piece of business. I’ll ask my parents to stop their payments after I’ve bought that nice apartment.
HEINRICH: Look at you! You’re a decent man, now, like I always knew you were. Well, even at your worst you were far more decent than most of the rabble.
FELIX: I’m glad you always had faith in me, Heinrich.
GUSTAV: Speaking of faith, some of my students have seen you at the university chapel.
FELIX: I like it there. It’s a nice, quiet, place.
HEINRICH: Don’t tell me you’re finding religion, now!
ANTON: Well, his beliefs are his choices, Heinrich. Remember that there’s plenty of ways to believe, too.
HEINRICH: I trusted you before and I trust you now. Just don’t become boring for it.
FELIX: Well, I was an interesting rascal before, and giving up a few whores won’t make me any less of an interesting rascal now.
LINDA: Oh! Before I forget to tell you gentlemen, Anton and I are hosting a ball next week, at that hall next to the Hofburg. We spared no expense to rent the space out, I tell you.
FELIX: (incredulously) What’s this? You’re hosting a ball, Anton?
ANTON: (embarrassed) Yes, Linda talked me into it. If I’m to be the head of my household someday I should learn how to be a host, shouldn’t I?
GUSTAV: Do you expect to be head of a household soon, Anton?
ANTON: We will see, won’t we, Linda?
LINDA: (laughs) Perhaps. Do you have something planned, Anton? Don’t tell me! It’ll ruin the surprise.
HEINRICH: (shaking his head) You two. You know, the gutter presses are having fun with you two. Oh, it’s contributing to our sales, so I won’t complain.
ANTON: How much money have we made, Heinrich?
HEINRICH: Oh, a pittance overall. But we’ve made more than enough for this whole paper business to sustain itself, and pay ourselves a little on the side. And the money isn’t the point, after all. It’s the fame, the notoriety!
GUSTAV: We must be careful not to attract too much attention to ourselves, Heinrich. You know what kind of insanity this city’s come to.
HEINRICH: We can take care of ourselves! Felix has plenty of experience with dispatching scoundrels. I’m a good shot with my pistol if that’s what it comes to.
GUSTAV: You know that I am uncomfortable with violence, Heinrich. I would prefer that we avoided deliberately provoking confrontation.
ANTON: Gustav is right. It’s best if we don’t provoke assault upon our heads. I only write about art, but only God knows what the ruffians will think of all of us.
HEINRICH: If you two are worried, the police are only a short walk away. I’m sure that any sort of assault would be met by them quite quickly.
GUSTAV: I’m not entirely sure those in the police would be sympathetic to our cause.
LINDA: The police are filled with populists and nationalists as well. We can’t rely on them for help.
FELIX: Well, I promise I’ll do my utmost to ensure this place is safe. I can find a few men, guards, if you’d like.
HEINRICH: That’ll be quite alright. Why are we all panicking over this, anyway! This is a day of celebration! Come, let me fill your cups again.
GUSTAV: Well, to lighten the mood, I thought I might bring an article from Schrimer to you. Here it is.
HEINRICH: (stares for a moments, then laughs derisively) “Degenerate music- can the Slavs be subverting our art?” (looks down the page) “For years we have seen the steady encroachment of inferior Slavic musics into our concert halls: savage and barbaric sound that has its place only with the most inferior of the races! We must ensure that Germanic music is restored to its proper place in the concert hall, and not allow the Slavs to subvert the morals of our art!”
GUSTAV: I’m just glad to see that the popular newspapers are varying their targets slightly now.
ANTON: Where was this published again?
GUSTAV: Oh, one of the many rags that are being put out on the street. One of my students was amused by this and brought me a copy.
ANTON: (shakes his head) Ridiculous. Listen to Dvorak and then to Strauss in an oriental mood. Tell me which of the two sounds more German.
LINDA: We have this paper delivered to our household. It’s a favorite of some of my boorish cousins, if I understand them correctly.
HEINRICH: Well, I’m expecting that most of their articles have the quality and piercing logic that this one has in abundance.
LINDA: (drily). Absolutely. In fact, I feel as if they have a sort of template for all of their articles. After a while they all tend to blend into each other.
GUSTAV: It’s about what you’d expect, yes. I’m surprised the paper still has sales. There are plenty of other papers with the same views and far better writing.
HEINRICH: The masses will lap up the stupid writing before the intelligent, Gustav. They have no taste, even in their stupidity. All it takes is a few madmen to have them riled up into a fury about some damn foolish thing.
(A knock is heard on the door).
FELIX: Are we expecting visitors? (His hand goes towards the cane at his side).
HEINRICH: No. It’s probably some urchins amusing themselves. Ignore it. (He pours himself some more wine)
(A few more knocks are heard, louder).
ANTON: Who is it?
SCHRIMER: Delivery! Delivery! Open up, please!
HEINRICH: What might you be delivering? I never ordered a damn thing.
SCHRIMER: Ink and paper! I came back from the store!
HEINRICH: The staff have the day excused! Tell us the truth now or I pull out this pistol and shoot you through the door!
(There is silence for a moment. The five watch the door nervously for a moment before it is kicked down).
(ENTER SCHRIMER and a gang of RUFFIANS)
SCHRIMER: Surrender now. No one needs to get hurt today!
HEINRICH: (fearfully) All right, all right! What do you want from us?
SCHRIMER: From you? Nothing. Smash the presses, men! We’re about to teach these fools a lesson!
HEINRICH: Bastard! What the hell do you think you’re doing? Who the hell are you?
SCHRIMER: I’m Joseph Schrimer. (looks next to HEINRICH, who has dropped his copy of Schrimer’s newspaper). Ah, one of my papers! It appears that you’ve heard of me. Far better than what you s*** out, isn’t it?
HEINRICH: Vulgar trash is what it is.
(SCHRIMER kicks HEINRICH, who screams in pain)
SCHRIMER: Oh, by the way, don’t bother with the police. I’ve already told them about this visit. A little maintenance work on the building is all. Cleaning out an infestation of vermin.
FELIX: What, like you?
SCHRIMER: (sneers) A foolish bunch you have here. It’s good for you all that the law will force me to stop making too much of an affair out of this.
(SCHRIMER’s men set about their work. They begin to smash the printing presses, sending paper and ink flying through the air)
ANTON: (defiantly) Herr Schrimer, I give you the next ten minutes to leave this building if you wish to receive forgiveness. I am sure that you are aware of who we are.
SCHRIMER: Yes. A bunch of Jew-lovers and Jews. A little gathering of vermin. The day will come when we can flush you out onto the street, exterminate you like you deserve.
GUSTAV: (angrily) You and your kind are a plague in this world. There will also come a day when your reckoning is at hand. When you will be smote in the fires of your own hatred. And I will laugh when I see it.
SCHRIMER: (walking over to GUSTAV with a recently lit hot poker in his hands) Fortunately, I don’t believe you ever will. (He stabs the hot pokers into GUSTAV’s eyes).
(They all scream, HEINRICH in hatred, GUSTAV in pain, and ANTON, FELIX, AND LINDA in shock)
FELIX: There’s a warm fire roasting in hell for what you’ve done here!
(FELIX is delivered a savage beating)
HEINRICH: I will make sure your death comes slow when I deliver it!
SCHRIMER: Don’t make too many foolish remarks. You might come to regret them- (kicks Heinrich)- like your friend is regretting his.
(The actors are silent for a moment as the sound of paper burning and printing presses being smashed continues, except for GUSTAV, who is crying out in pain)
SCHRIMER: You know, I must apologize. This whole thing was a little coincidence, you see, a little bit of bad luck for you. There was nothing personal in it. Just a bit of business teaching Jew-lovers like you a bit of a lesson. I must confess that I don’t even know who all of you are. I’ve heard enough of you to make my judgments, though.
RUFFIAN 1: We’ve destroyed everything we can find, Herr Schrimer.
SCHRIMER: (surveying the wreckage) Our work is done here, then. Let’s leave, friends!
(SCHRIMER and his RUFFIANS exit).
(In the corner, GUSTAV is screaming, with ANTON attempting to treat him).
(The curtain falls. End of ACT II).
A hospital. Several beds are laid out in the center of the room, with Gustav on top on the central one. To the right and left of him are Heinrich and Felix, with far less severe injuries. The room is empty other than the three men, two of whom are asleep. Heinrich stares blindly into the ceiling.)
GUSTAV: (crazed) A fire, a fire, I see fire neverending! Flames to consume the earth! To cleanse the rot and char it into ash! To scorch the flesh and to cook the bones! A feast, a feast, for the lord of flies!
HEINRICH: Gustav! Gustav! Quiet, please. Felix is trying to sleep.
GUSTAV: (laughing) I can see again, Heinrich! More clear than I ever have!
HEINRICH: (confused) What are you talking about, man? Can you see through those bandages?
GUSTAV: Bandages? They are no hindrance to my sight. It reaches beyond this fragile body of mine. Oh, I see the past, the future, the whole world before me! I see all and witness all!
HEINRICH: (concerned) Gustav, please get some rest. You will get better more quickly if you sleep, I promise. Here, have some water.
GUSTAV: (taking the water) Look! I can see this glass! I can hold it! Here, see me drink it. (He takes a sip)
HEINRICH: What- what? Where am I, Gustav?
GUSTAV: Oh, you are to my right. You look at me right now. In two minutes you will be looking slightly away towards Felix.
HEINRICH: (still suspicious) Describe this room to me, Gustav.
GUSTAV: Well, the floor and walls are all white. The floors are made of some sort of tile. There are beds all across the room: we three are in the central three beds. There are two pillows behind me, and across from me is an instructive poster of some sort. On your bed you have a newspaper.
HEINRICH: (shocked) Why, but this is a miracle! You must tell the doctors! Take those bandages off, Gustav!
FELIX: What’s this about miracles?
HEINRICH: Go back to sleep, Felix.
FELIX: Have my prayers had some effect, now?
GUSTAV: Hark! Hark! An angel- and he announces the end of this world! And the shells are his trumpets, the rifles his chorus, Death his fiddler! Behold- his pale horse! And his dread legions! Red and black- an ancient symbol!
FELIX: Gustav… are you- alright?
GUSTAV: I see things, Felix. Pay heed to my words! You have a chance to stop this! You have a chance to stop the madness!
FELIX: (quietly, to HEINRICH) Either he has received some divine revelation, or he has gone quite mad.
GUSTAV: Madness- oh, if you could but see the madness in all of us! It seeps through our veins, darkens our souls, corrupts and torments our minds!
FELIX: What the hell has gotten into you, man? You sound like a raving demon!
HEINRICH: Gustav, have some water. You need to keep yourself strong if you’re to recover! You’re lucky to be alive, friend.
GUSTAV: Lucky? Where is the luck in this life of ours? What exists but suffering? The wise thing, my friends, is to end this now!
HEINRICH: Go back to sleep, Gustav! You are not acting like yourself!
GUSTAV: Only because I have seen the truth, friends! Quick, give me your gun.
HEINRICH: Fortunately for you, I do not have it.
GUSTAV: We can end it right here, Heinrich! It will all be over! I promise, it will be easy! Painless! We can escape the madness!
HEINRICH: (on the edge of tears) No, my friend. This is not how I remembered you- this is not how you should be! Come back to your senses, Gustav: where is the old professor I used to know?
GUSTAV: (coming back momentarily) Heinrich- Heinrich, where are you? I cannot see.
HEINRICH: Gustav! You were delirious for a moment- saying all kinds of nonsense! Are you alright?
GUSTAV: By God, it hurts. I cannot see. Are my eyes gone, Heinrich?
HEINRICH: (crying) I’m so sorry, friend. This is all my fault. The newspaper- the articles we penned- I pulled you into this! You didn’t deserve this. You’re a good man, Gustav, far better than I am.
GUSTAV: Heinrich- Heinrich- we cannot blame you for this. There was no way any of us could have imagined this happening. All you were trying to do was make a difference-
HEINRICH: That’s a damn lie and you know it. I wasn’t doing what I did to change the world. I wasn’t doing it to help any of those bastards that read the papers. I did it for myself. I did it because it made (emphasized) me feel important.
GUSTAV: You are no worse than the rest of us then, Heinrich.
HEINRICH: I thought I wanted to be great. If this is the cost of that- I do not want it. I don’t want any part of this damn business at all.
GUSTAV: Heinrich- do not give up. Giving in, closing down what we have built- that only validates the brutes that did this to us. These are the most important words I will ever say to you: keep publishing your newspaper.
HEINRICH: You forgive too much, Gustav.
GUSTAV: If I was not to forgive a few errors and faults, then what friends would I have, Heinrich?
HEINRICH: I would hardly call your eyes a few errors and faults.
GUSTAV: I am alive. That is all that matters. I will not let this matter disturb me overly much.
FELIX: I’m glad to hear that you’re back, Gustav. You were saying the maddest things- it seemed like a spirit had infested you, or something.
GUSTAV: There very well might have been one, for all I know. I seem to recall some talk about fires.
FELIX: I’m wondering when they will discharge us from this place. I feel more than recovered enough. And I want to find those men who did this to us.
GUSTAV: Vengeance will not solve any of our problems, Felix.
HEINRICH: Get those bastards, Felix. Make sure they’re brought to justice.
GUSTAV: Be careful to not confuse vengeance with justice.
HEINRICH: How so? In this case they feel the same. We will make those men pay for your eyes- with interest, Gustav.
GUSTAV: (shaking his head) Just know that this is not what I want, Heinrich.
HEINRICH: Well, my friend, I am sure that it is. If you took some time to think this through-
GUSTAV: No. These men may be brutes, but we do not deal with brutes by bringing ourselves down to their depths.
HEINRICH: (standing up) How will you read now all your philosophy and history now, Gustav? Have you thought about how much you have lost?
GUSTAV: I am fully aware of what I have lost. But I have much left. And I will not gain anything I have lost back through taking away from others.
FELIX: Well, the Bible has plenty of precepts against violence. Precepts that it repeatedly violates, but let’s not mention that, shall we?
GUSTAV: Felix, I think you’re smarter than trusting one contradictory book for your morals.
FELIX: I like the way of speaking. “God bless this” and “God save that.” I assure you that’s the extent of my faith.
GUSTAV: Well, I don’t believe that the Bible prescribes vengeance, if that’s what you’re looking to it for guidance for.
(An ORDERLY enters)
ORDERLY: Are all of you awake? Good! You have some visitors here for you. How is the recovery proceeding?
GUSTAV: Quite splendidly, sir. I think a discharge will be in order soon.
HEINRICH: I am feeling quite alright. Thank you for all your time and your care. I think that we will not strain your resources any further after today.
ORDERLY: You will recover your health more quickly in this place. Please, stay another week.
HEINRICH: With all due respect, I feel that a nice cup of tea and my own bed will aid me more in my recovery now.
ORDERLY: Well, I cannot stop you. Enjoy your tea, I suppose. (He hands over some release papers) I will see your friends in.
(Enter LINDA and ANTON)
ANTON: Gustav! Felix! Heinrich! You’re all up again!
GUSTAV: (lying) We’re all doing quite well, Anton. I think I will be able to return to my own home soon. This attack will be but a memory for me in a few days.
FELIX: They’ve just allowed us a discharge. Say, do you know where the nearest telegraph is, Anton?
ANTON: Yes, right outside. I’ve told your family that you’re safe already-
FELIX: I’m not looking for my family. (He exits).
LINDA: Should I go get him, Anton?
ANTON: Oh, let him. I’m sure he’s probably just assuring a few old friends that their old scoundrel is still walking about.
HEINRICH: I have a feeling that Felix has other ideas, Anton.
GUSTAV: There is much good in that young man’s heart. It would be a terrible thing if that was turned to evil through ignorance.
ANTON: Gustav- your eyes-
GUSTAV: I’m fine, Anton.
ANTON: But your eyes are gone!
GUSTAV: There is more than one way of seeing this world than one’s eyes.
LINDA: Gustav, you’ll need help getting home. Let me call some transport-
GUSTAV: Oh, I can walk. I know this hospital. My home is not far from here. I will meet you at the offices next week-
ANTON: Please, Gustav, at least join us for some dinner to celebrate our recovery! We have some fine musicians with us- they will help to lift your spirits!
GUSTAV: My spirits have always been free enough, Anton, but I think that my stomach is in some need of good food.
ANTON: (happily) Come on then! We will talk more of this around the dining table. You know, it is a miracle that all of you seem to have suffered as little as you could have after that.
HEINRICH: Never been one to believe in miracles. Gustav, you’ll need some help. Here, my hand. Follow me closely. You can trust me, friend, I promise.
FELIX: (in good spirits) What’s this about a dinner I hear? I need some nourishment after that slop they fed us every day!
HEINRICH: Don’t we all. That will be a fine way to forget our sorrows: that and a little wine, I think.
FELIX: There’s plenty of wine in the Allenburg cellars, I hear. Is that true, Anton?
ANTON: I would have to ask one of the servants. I have never opened that cellar.
FELIX: There’s time for a little celebration, everyone. I found the address of the man that did this to us.
GUSTAV: (darkly) You will turn it over to the police, yes?
FELIX: The police? What help have they been to us? No, a few of my friends and I will have a talk over it.
HEINRICH: Don’t go stirring up any more trouble for us, now.
FELIX: On the contrary, I intend to end all these damn troubles of ours right now.
ANTON: (nervously) There’s no need for this talk. Come, Felix, there will be plenty of wine for you to enjoy at my home.
FELIX: (looking at Anton’s hand) You bastard! You’ve put a damn ring on it! Not in a thousand years-
GUSTAV: Well, this is instance for celebration! Why did you not tell us of this, Anton?
ANTON: Oh, we were hoping to tell you all once things had quieted down a little- once we had sorted out these problems we were having. It seemed a little strange to have this interrupt everything. But we’ve been engaged for two weeks now.
HEINRICH: Lucky scoundrel! I told you, Anton! I told you three years ago that one day some fine woman would come along for you and teach you all about life! Am I a prophet, or am I just a damn genius, now?
LINDA: Depends on what you believe, I suppose. I don’t think I’ve taught Anton as much about life as he’s taught me.
ANTON: Oh, I hate you when you pretend to be modest. Come on, now, we can afford to not be shy in public.
FELIX: When is the damn wedding, now? I need to find a suit: all of mine are ruined!
ANTON: It was set in another three months: I thought that would have been enough time for us to resolve-
FELIX: Well, push it forward! Whatever we have will be resolved quickly.
ANTON: I’ll be happy to! (pauses for a moment, then stares at everyone. He breaks down and cries) You know, it’s really impossible for me to say- for me to tell you- to tell you how happy I was when I saw all of you again, for the first time in these three months. Every day I worried about you, wondered if you were ever going to come out of that hospital. I came back today, and when all of you were standing outside, looking just like your old selves- I remembered all of the times we’ve spent together- everything we’ve gone through, everything we’ve seen, everything we’ve done, everything that’s been done to us. It was beautiful- as beautiful as anything I’ve ever seen or heard. (pauses) All of you- you are my best friends in this world. I would not give you up for anything.
HEINRICH: Anton- you’ve been a good friend to us. You’ve done your best. You’ve been a good man- you deserve far better than fools like me. But if you can stand me- hell, if you like me- well, then I will stay.
FELIX: I know you didn’t think highly of me at first, Anton. And I appreciate that now. I was a bad man when you first met me. And you helped me realize that I should change. You’ve done more than enough for you to deserve all the trust I can give you. And I hope I can be as good of a friend to you as you have been to me.
GUSTAV: All of you- listen to the old professor speak, now! It was only luck or some divine destiny that we all found each other. We are the only sane men in the world. We are the last of everything that this city used to represent. And I hope that we stay alive, and stay together, for as long as we can. There is a light in this city, a light that I can see now. A darkness surrounds it: it is being extinguished bit by bit. But we can keep it burning for as we remain. Perhaps long enough to save the slightest spark of it. Vienna- it must not become a memory. This city cannot become a relic, something for men to gawk at and admire as something long-dead, so long as we still live. We were brought together for a purpose, and I know now that this was it.
(There is silence for a moment after his words. The others nod in approval, before Anton breaks the silence)
ANTON: Well, then, let us retreat to the last safe bastion of the sane in this city before the madmen catch us.
FELIX: I’m thirsting after that wine already.
(EXIT. The curtain falls.)
The house of Anton. In a large dining room, richly furnished, with eight chairs around a rectangular table. Anton and Linda are sitting at the heads, while the other guests sit in between. Portraits in various styles, each more out of date than the last, adorn the walls, depicting various men and women with a striking resemblance to Anton. The room is dimly lit by candlelight only.
FELIX: Careful now, Gustav. Here- here, that’s the chair. You can sit down now.
GUSTAV: Must I be fed, too?
ANTON: I’ll have a servant wait upon you. It’ll come back to you, Gustav. I’ve heard of other blind men- they use their other senses, and soon enough they can act as if they’re seeing perfectly again.
GUSTAV: Thank you for the reassurance, Anton, but I think my predicament a little worse than that.
HEINRICH: Don’t lose hope, you old bastard. You’ve survived enough already: no use giving up now.
GUSTAV: I’m not intending to give up any time soon, Heinrich.
FELIX: (to Linda) Have you two found out more about the men who attacked us?
LINDA: I have, as a matter of fact. A few private detectives were enough to yield their residences and their offices. The attack on your paper was all over the presses, if I might say. The men are awaiting trial as we speak.
HEINRICH: Bah! It’s no good. The courts will find some way to pardon them. What we need is some real justice in this city.
FELIX: (darkly) I agree wholly.
ANTON: Let’s not talk of such dark business here. Come, the pastries Herr Lustig makes are delicious. Try one!
GUSTAV: (being fed by a servant) At the very least I still have this pleasure in life, I suppose.
ANTON: You have plenty of others, Gustav! Bring in the piano-player! What would you like to hear, Gustav?
GUSTAV: Ah, some Bach would be fine indeed. It has been a long time since I heard music.
ANTON: Well, the day I lose my hearing is the day when I decide there is truly nothing worth living for.
LINDA: Anton! Don’t say things like that.
ANTON: Oh, well, I suppose I do have something now. But in the days when I was still roaming about restlessly with you all-
FELIX: You talk about those days as if they were gone!
ANTON: Married life will be quite different for me, Felix.
HEINRICH: Oh, don’t tell me we’ve lost you.
LINDA: Well, gentlemen, you see that I have taken him already.
HEINRICH: Ah, crafty vixe- uh, woman. My tongue gets ahead of my head sometimes.
GUSTAV: If you don’t mind, I’d like to inquire about my position at the university.
ANTON: Well, as far as I know it hasn’t been filled. If you go back I heard that some of the other professors were planning to set up a sort of early retirement pension for you to live out the rest of your days.
GUSTAV: I intend to resume my post as soon as I have fully recovered.
HEINRICH: Don’t drive yourself too far, old bastard.
FELIX: I’m just going to say, I think it’ll be a fine idea if you get back to something you enjoy. It’s important to have a purpose in this life.
GUSTAV: I think so too, Felix. Anton: when have you arranged your wedding to be again?
ANTON: Wait, I haven’t told you all about the wedding? It’s going to be three weeks from now in this house. I was intending for a small ceremony: you and a few of Linda’s friends might be the only people there.
LINDA: Some poor host you are, Anton.
ANTON: I’m trying my best-
LINDA: Oh, don’t give me that. You’ve been spending more time in the concert halls than you have usually.
HEINRICH: I see some things won’t change with married life.
LINDA: More than a few things, I’m afraid.
FELIX: Well, isn’t liking the scoundrel the way he is the reason you decided to marry him?
LINDA: Well, no one is perfect.
ANTON: You could say that again.
LINDA: Oh, before I forget to tell you: I have a surprise for you all later this evening. It’ll be something you like, I promise.
ANTON: What? You didn’t even tell me of this.
LINDA: Well, that would ruin the fun of it.
ANTON: (groans) Alright then. Well, I’ll trust that it is something good.
HEINRICH: Well, I hate anticipation. Certainly you could order a bit more of that beef to keep my spirits up, eh?
FELIX: A bit more of that wine would be good too.
ANTON: The servants are getting it as we speak. Well, we haven’t turned to the most important piece of business, friends.
HEINRICH: What is that?
ANTON: Will our paper start up again? I had great fun writing articles for that, you know. And it was the only respectable job I’ve held.
HEINRICH: (sighs) Well, you see what that paper brought us. Nothing but all these misfortunes and sorrows. I was intending to make my name, to make myself notorious. It was arrogance; it was hubris. And instead of me- well, my friends were punished for it. I thought only of myself when I made that paper, and this is where you are now because of it.
GUSTAV: Heinrich: remember what I told you in the hospital. You might think the worst of yourself, but in truth I think you wanted to make this world a better place.
FELIX: Hell, writing articles for that paper made me realize so many things about my life. That visit to Herr Freud- that changed me wholly. You’ve helped so many people, Heinrich, and you don’t even realize it.
ANTON: We were doing something great, Heinrich. We shouldn’t stop it.
HEINRICH: (shaking his head) I can’t. I can’t stand having others harmed on my behalf. I can’t go back to that paper again.
FELIX: What, do you want to let those bastards win? Do you want to let them get away with beating us into fear? With blinding a harmless old university professor? Do you want to admit that the madmen rule this world now? What’s gotten into you?
LINDA: Heinrich, my husband only thinks the highest of you, and I do as well. I know great men when I see them. I know great things when I see them. You were doing a great thing.
HEINRICH: You know- I’m not one to be sentimental, but I don’t know what I would do without all of you. (laughs) I’d be as mad as the rest of them if it weren’t for you.
ANTON: At least we could try to keep away from provocation of the sort we had before if you wanted to keep us safe.
HEINRICH: Well, the provocation was the fun part while it lasted. But I think we can do greater things with it now. I can see it: Der Welt reviving itself, like a phoenix from the ashes. Everyone will be scrambling for subscriptions. It’ll be a fine deal, a fine deal.
FELIX: That’s the spirit! Well, I’m sure together we have enough to repair the equipment and the office. We should be printing again in another month if we work at it.
LINDA: Well, about that. Remember the surprise I told you about earlier?
FELIX: Yes. What was that, anyway?
HEINRICH: Your bride-to-be likes the dramatic gestures, eh?
ANTON: I’m fond of them myself, Heinrich.
HEINRICH: Never saw you as a dramatic, Anton. More of a Romantic, if I’m going to diagnose you correctly.
ANTON: Have you ever given a thought to, well, you know, finding someone?
HEINRICH: What? A woman? Haven’t I told you my thoughts on this before?
ANTON: If you have I don’t remember.
HEINRICH: Ha! Well, these women have never been of great interest to me. You find one and she binds you down for the rest of your life. I’m a wanderer, Anton. I don’t want someone forcing me down my whole life. I want to do great things without worrying about someone else all the time.
ANTON: Freedom has its charms too, I suppose.
HEINRICH: Damn right, it does. You can attest to that, eh, Felix?
FELIX: I don’t know, I think a drifter like me needs some settling down.
ANTON: Linda’s more than happy to arrange a few proper matches for you, if that’s what you’re asking for.
FELIX: Ah, but these Viennese don’t interest me. My time will come when it comes.
ANTON: Well, that was what I thought for long too. You’ll find the person you look for, I promise.
FELIX: Ah, but with my looks, I am sure that I will.
ANTON: There’s no doubt about it. Have I told you that I finished my play in those weeks you were in the hospital?
HEINRICH: Never thought you’d finish the damn thing. Let me guess: there’s a tragic ending. The main character is rejected by his object of affection and jumps in the Rhine.
ANTON: Uh, well, that wasn’t quite how I ended it, now. Felix- well, the character based on you, at the very least, finishes the story after fleeing to Paris and marrying a nice Frenchwoman. The end of the play takes place at their wedding.
FELIX: Couldn’t think of a better way to end that play. What happens to Heinrich? Does go out on a spree of revenge against the anti-Semites and cleanse the city of them?
ANTON: Oh, his newspaper becomes a massive success, and he forgets all about his intentions of shooting up his rivals. In the end he puts enough money into the courts to have most of them shut down anyway.
GUSTAV: Well, Anton, I’m sure you have a fine play, but the ending seems a little optimistic from what I expected from you.
ANTON: I couldn’t bear having a sad ending after what happened to us. I tried to keep the memory of you all alive through that play: it might be terrible but it was a sort of healing for me writing it. I wasn’t ever sure if you would make it out of that hospital, and I thought I wanted to keep the best memory of you all I could alive.
FELIX: (quietly) That’s a fine gesture. Well, I promise I shall do my best to keep that memory alive as well.
HEINRICH: You could start by ditching that fool plan of yours you told me about on your way here.
FELIX: Oh, I think I may have a better one now. One that involves less possibility of getting put on a noose somewhere.
GUSTAV: Well, how does the old, blind professor meet his end in the play?
ANTON: Oh, he regains his ability even more quickly than he expected, and goes back to being a celebrated lecturer. No one wants to taunt an old, blind man, so he’s spared the troubles he had to face before.
GUSTAV: (laughs) Well, I certainly hope that things do end that way. Send me a copy of your play when you’ve finished editing it.
ANTON: Oh, I don’t think it’s quite fit for consumption-
FELIX: Oh, shut up, you old bastard. Even if it really is something terrible I’ll treasure it like the finest gold. Anything that speaks so highly of me should be kept that way.
HEINRICH: Yes, make sure you get it to us! I’ll keep those scraps of paper for the rest of my days.
(LINDA enters, with a key in her hands)
LINDA: Gentlemen, here is the key to the new offices of Der Welt of Vienna, fully furnished with offices, presses, ink, and paper. They’re located right next to my home on the Ringstrasse. And there is plenty of security: I have ensured that two armed guards are in the building at all times.
HEINRICH: My, but you are a saint! You have a fine woman here, Anton!
ANTON: Yes, I realized that a while ago.
GUSTAV: I’ll have my next article dictated by the end of the week.
HEINRICH: Of course, of course! It will be a special issue: we’ll have a story about ourselves and our own miraculous recovery.
FELIX: Ah, but if only those ruffians were brought to justice! It would be a perfect scene, then!
LINDA: Well, you know as they say that money is the lubricant that oils the gears of the courts.
ANTON: And that is one thing we have plenty of.
FELIX: Yes, I was thinking along the same lines to avoid violence.
HEINRICH: We’ll have even more of those marks once we’ve begun printing! Come, come. Let’s head off to these new offices immediately! I want to see everything and make sure it’s all in working order.
LINDA: Oh, please finish your dinner first! This is why I was afraid of showing you so soon- oh, stop running off! Please, sit down! Finish your meal like civilized men!
HEINRICH: (barely bringing himself to sit down) This is the hand of some God at work, it must be. My, but I think I’ll have to pay a visit to the chapel in thanks.
ANTON: You should pay one to our wedding instead.
HEINRICH: Sounds like a better idea.
GUSTAV: I will be sure to attend as well. This house: it is like a bastion of light. I can see it in my mind’s eye: the clouds and rain surround it, try to tear down its walls, but that only makes it shine ever-brighter.
ANTON: As long as Linda and I still manage this house that is what it shall continue to be. This- we- will be the toast of the last great Viennese.
GUSTAV: The end of this comes nearer every day. Let us preserve it while we can. I see other things too- something dark and terrible swallowing this whole world soon. It will be gone forever after that.
HEINRICH: These are some ominous visions you have, my friend.
GUSTAV: I have never been a mystic, Heinrich. Yet I do not doubt the truth of what I see.
FELIX: A beautiful age it is. And a tragedy its ending will be.
GUSTAV: (sadly) We will never see its like again.
A grand hall, holding a small wedding. The ceremonies are all over, and bride and groom now converse with the collected guests casually around tables. Champagne is served by waiters, while the dance floor fills with waltzing couples. Crystal chandeliers illuminate the room.
HEINRICH: No, I absolutely insist I shall not dance.
LINDA: Heinrich, run on and find a partner. You’ll enjoy it, I promise.
HEINRICH: No, no, no, for the last time! I have champagne to be enjoying!
LINDA: Oh, come on, now! Even Gustav is being led by his partner. Look at how much fun he’s having! And just look: he isn’t tripping over anyone. You have nothing to be afraid of!
HEINRICH: Oh, alright, woman, I’ll go! Just promise you’ll stop heckling me after this!
LINDA: That’s the spirit!
(HEINRICH runs onto the dance floor. He finds a partner as the next waltz begins)
MARIA: You’re that newspaper editor, aren’t you? I’ve heard all about you in the papers!
HEINRICH: Oh, yes. That’s me. Um, what’s your name?
MARIA: Maria. And you’re Heinrich, right?
HEINRICH: Indeed I am! I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about me soon. We’re about to start publishing again. Have a bunch of articles in a special issue. Wasn’t going let a little assault and intimidation stop me, of course.
MARIA: Well, it’s good to see that you’re back up and at it.
HEINRICH: Um, I must tell you that I don’t actually know how to waltz.
MARIA: What, and you call yourself a Viennese? What are you, a Magyar? Come on! For your sake let me teach you.
HEINRICH: Well, I’ll step forward-
MARIA: You’re stepping on my feet-
HEINRICH: (embarrassment) My God, I apologize! Oh, please, do forgive me-
MARIA: (laughs) I didn’t think you were being serious. Well, slide your feet forward-
(HEINRICH follows her directions, grumbling as he goes)
ANTON: (waltzing) You see, I have been improving. I’ve been doing practice.
LINDA: You have. I remember when you started.
ANTON: Was I as bad as Heinrich is now?
LINDA: Oh, almost. You know, maybe I shouldn’t have let him onto the dance floor after all. Seems to be a bit of a hazard.
ANTON: Oh, have some patience with the man. You know Felix is penning a scandal article about this wedding.
LINDA: Plenty of scandalous things are going to happen tonight, I hope.
ANTON: Let’s hope that dear Felix doesn’t publish them, now. Speaking of the devil-
(They spot FELIX dancing with a partner)
FELIX: Hey! The champagne is good!
ANTON: Glad you enjoy it! Are you drunk?
FELIX: What? (lurches) Of course not!
GERDA: Yes, he most certainly is.
(The waltz ends).
THE CONDUCTOR: Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce this next waltz. It was composed by the late Johann Strauss for our exalted Kaiser Franz Joseph himself: I am hoping that its imperial pretensions will not distract you from your business on the floor!
ANTON: It will be fine, Herr Conductor. And thank you for a fine selection of music.
FELIX: Excuse me, dear, but I don’t believe I ever got your name.
GERDA: Why do you wish to know it? You seem like one of those men that bounces about more than a little.
FELIX: I’m sorry if I’ve given you that impression. I’m a journalist, you see: not one of those disreputable fellows.
GERDA: Well, if you say so. My name is Gerda. It was a pleasure dancing with you. Even drunk you move better than most of the other men.
FELIX: Will you continue with me this next dance?
GERDA: (thinks for a moment) Most certainly. Just don’t have too much more of that champagne.
FELIX: It may be too tempting, I’m afraid.
GUSTAV: (to Anton) I will take a break, if it does not trouble you.
ANTON: Of course. I see many of your students here today. I thought that allowing your invitations would only bring one or two!
GUSTAV: Well, you know those university students. They enjoy their balls and parties.
ISTVAN: Professor! Are you alright?
GUSTAV: I’m fine, Istvan. I can handle myself on a little dancing. You know, when I was younger my sisters tried to teach me some proper waltzing.
ISTVAN: I’m afraid I didn’t have the same opportunity.
GUSTAV: Well, carpe diem, as the Romans would have said. Go on. Live your life to its fullest. I would have been better served if someone had taught me that when I was young. Look at me now: an old, blind professor.
ISTVAN: Professor! You’re a great man! Everyone thinks so.
GUSTAV: Well, I was never a very happy man either. Maybe not even much of a good one. Go and enjoy yourself, Istvan.
HEINRICH: Well, thank you for that informative experience.
MARIA: It was my pleasure. Well, at least I am sure you’re a proper German now.
HEINRICH: Does that make a difference?
MARIA: On the dance floor it does. You know those Slavs and their oddness.
HEINRICH: Bah! Well, there’s a handsome young man right there. He seems like he’d be a little more fit for this business than I am.
MARIA: Oh, I know poor dancers when I see them.
(ISTVAN and MARIA join each other).
(HEINRICH quickly flees the floor to sit next to GUSTAV).
HEINRICH: Your student just saved me, Gustav.
GUSTAV: If you put your heart to it you would enjoy it more, Heinrich.
HEINRICH: My heart is set on what’s about to befall us, Gustav. Good fortune like we’ve never known before! The whole city’s abuzz about our republication. I tell you, this was the grand opportunity we needed to fight back, to truly have a voice. It’ll make good what happened to you, I promise.
GUSTAV: Speaking of that, now. I hear that the trial for Schrimer did not go as well as he would have hoped.
HEINRICH: Oh? What happened?
GUSTAV: The judge was not overly fond of his manner. He banned any legal publication from the man and tossed him and his ruffians in jail for the next twenty years.
HEINRICH: I’m suspecting that Felix and Linda’s scheme might have had a hand to play in that. Don’t tell me again that it isn’t useful to know some rich bastards!
GUSTAV: I don’t usually approve of extrajudicial measures, but in this case it may have been warranted.
HEINRICH: Very much so. Have some champagne, Gustav! A glass won’t get you drunk. Enjoy your life.
GUSTAV: I think I will have a glass, actually.
HEINRICH: That’s the spirit! A little bit of alcohol makes the tongue so much smoother. Lubricates conversation, I think.
FELIX: What’s this about lubricating conversation, eh?
HEINRICH: (laughing) Felix here- Felix know this principle better than anyone. Find any interesting women?
FELIX: No. I’m not bothering to flirt around anymore, Heinrich. Have to find the right woman.
HEINRICH: What about that woman I saw you with, eh?
FELIX: Oh, she was nice. I enjoyed myself. But I enjoy myself more with all of you.
HEINRICH: Back to your old habits, then.
FELIX: No, of course not! In the old days I would have took her out to the opera then gone to the whorehouses afterwards.
HEINRICH: (laughs) Right, such is the extent of your reformation.
GUSTAV: How is Anton on the floor?
FELIX: Smiling like a madman. Happiest man in the world he is right now. You can just see him swooning along with the music and Linda. He loves this more than he ever imagined.
HEINRICH: A real Viennese man right there. A real Viennese he is. Not many of those left, but he has the blood, the taste, and the temperament for it.
FELIX: Well, what are we, then?
HEINRICH: Scoundrels, of course!
GUSTAV: I prefer the term men of reason.
HEINRICH: The only reasonable men are us scoundrels. What has the world come to today then, eh?
GUSTAV: An interesting place. Look at all the art; listen to all the music; read all the books that we produce here today. This is what they will remember years from now: not the madness, not the chaos and destruction, but the beauty of it all.
FELIX: Not much beautiful about what most people are making today as art.
GUSTAV: Well, if you talk to Anton, he’d tell you that most people have a narrow view of beauty. I happen to agree with him in this regard. So much about what we make is so striking, so evocative. Even these decadent gatherings and waltzes will be remembered so much more than all the ugliness.
FELIX: This fantasy that the rich build will become a reality to those fools, eh?
HEINRICH: It’s a pretty enough fantasy. You know, I remember saying so much about how ugly this city really was deep down, or something like that. I don’t think I want people to really think that of this city. There’s plenty of good in it. Maybe it’s best that they do remember it like this.
FELIX: What will happen after this, Heinrich?
HEINRICH: After us, the deluge.
GUSTAV: But all that- all the art, all the politics, everything of that- what does it matter compared to what we have here? This is life as it really is. Our friends- our memories- our families and loved ones. That is what is important to each of us. On the grand scale of history that all fades into nothing, but in the now, in the present, they are the only matters of importance.
HEINRICH: You know, for a long time I was quite determined that I would be great. After- after what happened to us, I gave that up. I realized something. I realized that it all wouldn’t matter anyway: what have I ever cared about what the masses think, anyway? Why did I live my life wanting to remembered by them? So I thought I wanted to do good now. I wanted to be a good friend: that was all.
GUSTAV: You remember that afternoon all those months ago when we talked of this?
HEINRICH: Of course. I’ll remember that conversation to my dying day.
FELIX: Carpe diem, indeed. If we can’t save this world, well, let’s enjoy it while we can.
(ANTON and LINDA approach)
ANTON: Well, my guests, the night grows long, and I regret to inform you that this celebration is almost over. But first, a few toasts that I must make.
HEINRICH: Hear, hear!
ANTON: The first is to Vienna. May this imperial city live long and flourish!
(A cheer, then glasses draining)
ANTON: The second is to my dear wife, Linda. I know she will keep me from my worst excesses to the end of my days and do many other great things besides!
(The clamor repeats)
ANTON: The third is to the Kaiser Franz Joseph. May he and his empire survive for a thousand years!
ANTON: The fourth is to art, that, which of all things, makes our dire and miserable lives worth living so much of the time. To music, to painting, to dance, to sculpture and building, to literature and poetry!
ANTON: And finally- (turning to the others)- finally, to my dear friends. Those that have been loyal and true to me for as long as I have known them. Those that have given me something that cannot be adequately measured by anything. Those that have helped me in my darkest and brightest moments. Those that will bring joy and happiness to my life until its end. Thank you. Heinrich, Felix, Gustav, may you be blessed to the end of your days.
THE CONDUCTOR: And now let us begin the final dance!
(As the music begins, everyone returns to the dance floor.)
Gustav continued on as a university professor until the Anschluss, when he was forced to flee to France, then to Britain, where he lived out the rest of his days until his death. He left no descendants, but many of his students continued his intellectual legacy and remembered the old professor as a fatherly figure of sorts.
Felix joined the Austro-Hungarian army at the outbreak of war. After the war he fled to Paris, where he married a Frenchwoman and had a family shortly before the economic depression. Forced into desperation, Felix enlisted in the French Army as an officer, where he was killed in the initial months of fighting during the Second World War.
Felix was survived by two sons who grew up in Strasbourg, Alsace-Lorraine, firstly during the German occupation of the country. Later in their lives they moved into West Germany, with one eventually finding his way back to Vienna. There they met several figures from their father’s past, who told them of his dissolute youth and astonishing reformation.
Anton had two children with Linda, a boy and a girl. He was drafted into the military in 1917, but managed to survive the war and return to his family. In post-war Vienna the family lost most of its wealth, and was eventually forced to move away back to Anton’s ancestral estates. There the family lived out the rest of their days modestly.
Heinrich continued on as editor of the newspaper he founded. After the war began, he was immediately drafted, resulting in the closure of the paper without its editor and the majority of its staff. After the war ended, he joined a small faction of Habsburg loyalists who attempted to restore the emperor to the throne of Austria at first and then Hungary, failing both times. Broken, Heinrich eventually fled to Anton’s estate, hiding as a political criminal.
All four men remained in contact with each other for the duration of their lives, and lamented the downfall of the Viennese life and culture which they had been immersed in. Gustav’s predictions had come true, to his own lamentation. They all watched in horror as the forces they witnessed in pre-war Vienna eventually fermented in the form of a man they had encountered previously: Adolf Hitler.
Anton became especially disillusioned with political happenings, retreating exclusively to artistic pursuits and keeping himself isolated from world affairs. Heinrich found the energy to protest the Anschluss fervently, and was subsequently pardoned by the post-war Austrian government where he found an elected position.
Through all this Gustav attempted to speak for the plight of Jews in Europe to the Allied governments, asserting that they were being slaughtered en masse in concentration camps. While his information was not disputed, his cries fell largely on deaf ears. Gustav died after the liberation of the camps, in which the full extent of the atrocities of the Third Reich was revealed. Some say that the shock of the full revelations took whatever life was left out of him.
As a permanent possession all of the men kept a copy of Anton’s play until their deaths. Eventually, after Anton passed away, Heinrich decided to have the play published. It received little attention beyond his immediate relatives and friends but a small production was launched in Austria, which was greatly celebrated by the few alive who still remembered Anton, or those who wished to honor his memory and that of his beloved friends. Critical reviews of the play were favorable, unlike what Anton expected, but all commented on a layer of nostalgia and longing behind the seemingly happy ending, as well as the autobiographical nature of the events.
As their lives continued the men continued to harken back to the golden age of Vienna in which they had lived their youths, and at the same time realized that there they had seen the incubation and growth of the forces that had destroyed that golden age. The saga of the twentieth century in Europe, they realized, was in large part, for good and ill, told in their beloved city.