Citizen Schippel

By Carl Sternheim

Adapted by David Copelin and John Van Burek

From a literal translation by Lascelle Wingate

Volume 5, Issue 2 (Fall 2014)

 TRANSLATING STERNHEIM’S BÜRGER SCHIPPEL

John Van Burek’s wife Anne saw a revival of the play, Sternheim’s greatest comedic success, in France, where it was a huge hit. She brought back a French translation of the script. John read it and was charmed by it. Knowing of my translation of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi, which he had seen at the Shaw Festival in 1990, John asked me if I’d be interested in working with him on translating Sternheim’s comedy into North American English. I of course agreed, even though my German is minimal. So is John’s.

I found a British translation of the play, but as so often, what makes sense in British English is not exactly right for a North American audience. We realized that we needed a literal translation of the text. Through his Pleiades Theatre, John commissioned Lascelle Wingate, whose mother tongue is German, to do that for us. Armed with Lascelle’s literal, the French translation, the British version, a very large German-English dictionary, and our combined theatre sense, John and I went through the play several times, finally coming up with a text that seemed to work.

We tested it with a two-day workshop in Toronto with professional actors, and made some refinements thereafter. The result is what you are reading now.

Challenges were many, starting with John’s and my minimal German. The title, Citizen Schippel, is not an exact rendering of Bürger Schippel, but we felt that it was better than, say, Paul Schippel, Esq. , which is the British choice. So often these things are judgment calls!

Two examples will stand for the rest of the many challenges we faced. In the original, Andreas Wolke (whose surname is also the German word for “cloud”) often says, “Ja also wie?” Given our sense that Wolke, in love with the sound of his own voice, always searches for just the right word (even when it isn’t), John came up with the phrase “How to put it?” as Wolke’s frequent question to himself. It’s not only a reasonable translation, it’s extremely playable. As for the word play on Wolke, we tried to find an English equivalent, but finally chose not to. Fortunately, Wolke’s “cloudishness” can be acted with success.

— David Copelin

Carl Sternheim (1878 – 1942) was a German playwright and short story writer. One of the major exponents of German Expressionism, he satirized the moral sensibilities of the emerging German middle class. Sternheim was born in Leipzig, the son of a Jewish banker and a working-class Lutheran woman. His parents married two years after he was born. Between 1897 and 1902, Sternheim studied philosophy, psychology, and jurisprudence at the Universities of Munich, Göttingen, and Leipzig, but he never graduated. In 1900, he began working as a freelance writer in Weimar, where he met and married his first wife, Eugenie Hauth. Their union ended in 1906.  In 1907, Sternheim married the writer Thea Löwenstein, with whom he had two children. The wealth brought by Thea from her rich manufacturing family enabled Wedekind to write full time. Living in Munich, Sternheim worked in the company of fellow artists such as Mechtilde Lichnowsky, Max Reinhardt, and Frank Wedekind, and assembled his own art collection. In 1908, he collaborated with Franz Blei to launch the Expressionist literary journal Hyperion, which published the first eight prose works by Franz Kafka. In 1912, the Sternheims relocated to Belgium.  In 1918, they fled the fighting of World War I and temporarily moved to St. Moritz and Uttwil in Switzerland. Sternheim and Thea divorced in 1927. His next marriage, to actress and singer Pamela Wedekind, took place in 1930 and lasted until 1934, after which he lived with Henriette Carbonara. Sternheim died in Brussels during World War II and was buried in the Ixelles Cemetery. The Nazis banned Sternheim’s work not only because of his Jewish descent but also because of his savage comic assaults on the self-satisfaction and moral corruption of the German bourgeoisie. His works remain popular in Germany, but English language productions of them are rare.  Some years ago, Steve Martin adapted Sternheim’s Die Hose into English as The Underpants, thereby bringing something of Sternheim’s particular vision to a new and appreciative North American audience.

David Copelin is a member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada and the Dramatists Guild of America, as well as a founding member and former President of Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas. David’s original plays include A Clean Breast, The Angel Capone, Bella Donna, Hitler Goes to Heaven, Quicksand, Quite Contrary, The Rabbi of Ragged Ass Road, That Other Thing, Trojans for Tots, and Wife Insurance (with Cat Delaney). His translation of Jarry’s Ubu Roi has been produced at the Shaw Festival, Yale Repertory Theatre, and many universities. With John Van Burek, David adapted Carl Sternheim’s comedy Citizen Schippel for Toronto’s Pleiades Theatre, and he recently translated Stéphane Brulotte’s In Hemingway’s Shadow. David has worked as a dramaturg and story consultant for Arena Stage, CBS/Fox Video, the Mark Taper Forum, Marin Theatre Company, Midwest Playlabs, New Dramatists, the Phoenix Theatre, ScriptLab, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Warner Bros. Pictures. He has taught theatre at Brock University, the University of California, and Southern Oregon University. David is a graduate of Columbia University and Yale Drama School. A dual citizen of Canada and the U.S., he lives in Vancouver, BC. David is represented by Michael Petrasek at The Talent House in Toronto.

Born in Toronto, John Van Burek has had a distinguished career in the theatre, nationally and internationally, in both English and French, as a director, teacher and translator. He has mounted over one hundred productions, ranging from the European classics to opera to new Canadian plays, and his work has taken him to many countries in the world. In 1971 he founded Toronto’s first French-language theatre, Le Théâtre Français de Toronto, which he ran for some twenty years. At the same time, through his numerous translations, most notably the works of Michel Tremblay, he began to introduce theatre from Québec to English-Canadian audiences.

Mr. Van Burek has also taught extensively, including at such schools as Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, University of Victoria, Ryerson Theatre School, National Theatre School of Canada/École Nationale de Théâtre du Canada and York University. He has directed in the U.K and in France, and in 1996 he led an international theatre exchange project in Bangladesh. For BRAVO! Television he wrote and produced a series of six television documentaries about the development of new plays in Canada. In 1997 he founded Pleiades Theatre, which is mandated to produce plays that originate in languages and cultures other than English, and to do them in new Canadian translations. Since its inception, Pleiades Theatre has produced plays from France, Italy, Russia, Québec, and India.

Mr. Van Burek has been the recipient of many awards and honors, notably The Toronto Drama Bench’s award for Distinguished Contribution to Canadian Theatre, a Canada Council “A” Grant, and the Prix Alliance for his contribution to French-language arts and culture. He has been decorated by l’Ordre de la Pléiade de l’Assemblée parlementaire de la francophonie. For several years he was a member of the Canadian Artists and Producers Professional Relations Tribunal in Ottawa and he recently received the prestigious Silver Ticket Award from the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts.

CITIZEN SCHIPPEL

 A comedy in two acts

CHARACTERS

(5m, 2f)

Tilmann Hicketier, a goldsmith

Jenny Hicketier, his wife

Thekla Hicketier, his sister

Heinrich Krey, a bureaucrat

Andreas Wolke, owner of a print shop

*The Prince

Paul Schippel

*A Doctor

* = may be played by the same actor

PLACE:          A town in a small German principality

TIME:             About 1910

ACT ONE

Scene 1

            (The bourgeois home of the Hicketiers. JENNY is in the living room. A crown made out of gold laurel leaves sits on a cushion in a glass case. THEKLA enters. She is very blonde.)

THEKLA

Jenny? Are you alone? Last night, around midnight, I heard a noise outside. I looked out my window. I saw a shadow, then the silhouette of a man!

JENNY

Thekla!

THEKLA

Crouching by the wall. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. The fellow saw me, but didn’t say a word. We were frozen in time. Finally, to break the spell, I stepped back. The man vanished. Gone. Who could it have been?

JENNY

A secret admirer.

THEKLA

Why in the dead of night? And to come and go like that, like a burglar …

JENNY

You’re seeing things. You’re still in shock after Adolf’s death.

THEKLA

Adolf Naumann. Don’t talk to me about him. He was my fiancé, yes, but a horrible man. So stuffy, so upright! He made me sick.

JENNY

You used to like him well enough.

THEKLA

One night last month took care of that. We were alone. He was my universe; I was happy, and full of desire. If he’d said one word, made one gesture, I’d have given myself to him. But the idiot just sat there, his big calf’s eyes bugging out of his head.

JENNY

Child!

THEKLA

And that was that. I was free again.

JENNY

Well, now he rests in peace.

THEKLA

Thank God. What a morning!

JENNY

Soon the men will be back from the funeral. I wonder if they managed to sing “How sweetly he lies … ” without their dead tenor?

THEKLA

Adolf Naumann’s turning to dust. That makes me so happy.

JENNY

Don’t you ruin Tilmann’s memory of his friend!

THEKLA

No more than I’d ruin the saintly image he has of me. To hear my brother tell it. Naumann and I were the perfect couple. So, for him, I’ll play the grieving widow.

JENNY

Tilmann needs his symbols. It’s the way he is.

            (THEKLA has picked the crown from the glass case. Laughing, she puts it on her head.)

THEKLA

Here you see united the two supreme perfections: Tilmann’s baby sister and the crown they’ve won twice at the Sängerfest.

JENNY

Third time unlucky, what with your fiancé dying just days before the contest.

THEKLA

You see? That shows you how insensitive he was. They’re thinking of asking Paul Schippel to —

JENNY

Schippel! Dangerous complications with that one. Sorry, I can’t tell you what they are.

THEKLA

Oh, Jenny, please. I’ve known for a long time. Schippel’s illegitimate. He’s a bastard.

JENNY

Don’t let on you even know that word! Your brother —

THEKLA

He thinks I still believe in the stork.

JENNY

The men are squirming. They can’t bring themselves to ask Schippel to sing with them. The mere thought makes their skin crawl. And time’s running out. The Prince has already come to town. Tilmann can force himself to put up with the disgrace, if necessary, but Wolke and Krey —

THEKLA

            (laughing)

They’re going mad. The shame, the shame!

JENNY

You make fun of them because men like that aren’t romantic enough for you.

THEKLA

Romantic! Compared to my brother, Krey and Wolke are small potatoes.

JENNY

You don’t take the trouble to see their good points.

THEKLA

If I even look at Krey, he panics. The confirmed old bachelor is terrified of the available young Mädchen.

JENNY

Wolke likes you. He’s always liked you.

THEKLA

Then Krey, a thousand times Krey! I could train him. Mein Gott! That specter last night looked like Wolke! Could that be possible? Herr Andreas Wolke on the prowl for nocturnal romance?

            (She bursts out laughing.)

If he could do that, maybe I could learn to like him. I’ve never been so ready for my knight in shining armor!

JENNY

Oh, Thekla.

THEKLA

My heart is free. For me, it’s the first day of summer.

            (HICKETIER, KREY and WOLKE enter. They are in frock coats and top hats.)

HICKETIER

            (to THEKLA)

Arme geliebte Schwester!

WOLKE

Our gifted tenor Adolf Naumann departed this world in glory, so to speak, torn from us in the prime of life. The funeral – splendid! The singing — gloomy, without a tenor. A personal observation. Krey, what’s your opinion?

KREY

            (sotto voce)

Will you shut up!

WOLKE

            (to THEKLA)

We, in true appreciation of your feelings, have … how to put it?

HICKETIER

Liebes Kind.

THEKLA

Leave me alone.

(She exits.)

HICKETIER

It’s struck her like lightning from the clear blue sky.

WOLKE

Shaken to the roots of her being. Our task must be … how to put it? He was … taken all in all … a man.

KREY

Let’s not waste more time in chitchat. Hicketier, bring the letter.

HICKETIER

I’ll get it.

JENNY

Have you written to Schippel?

HICKETIER

            (to JENNY)

Stay with Thekla. It’s a difficult time for her.

JENNY

She’s a sensible girl. She’ll get over it.

(HICKETIER and JENNY exit.)

WOLKE

Women: so utterly mysterious. The groom is not cold in his grave, and the bride is “sensible.” Who knows? Perhaps her eye is already on someone else.

KREY

If you don’t shut your filthy mouth … !

WOLKE

As if I didn’t know.

KREY

What’s that supposed to mean?

WOLKE

Is there something you’ve forgotten to tell me?

KREY

I’m warning you.

WOLKE

I know what’s what.

(HICKETIER returns.)

HICKETIER

The typewriter spared me the indignity of actually having to write to the beggar. I didn’t close with “Sincerely yours,” or “Respectfully,” and I signed it with a rubber stamp.

KREY

In the circumstances, that could be a mistake. Read it.

HICKETIER

Die Herren Hicketier, Krey und Wolke” – I put our names in alphabetical order – “might be willing, should you be suitable, to allow you, on probation, to sing in our quartet. You are requested to present yourself at the address of the undersigned on Monday the 13th.” – That’s  today – “at 3 o’clock PM. Hicketier.”

WOLKE

Bravo! Well done.

KREY

It sounds like a summons from the tax man. That’s how you talk to a dog.

WOLKE

Is Schippel – how to put it? — much more than a dog?

KREY

Unless he’s totally spineless, he’ll foam at the mouth.

HICKETIER

When I wrote this, I was enraged at having to make the first move. It was the most humiliating sacrifice of my life.

KREY

I should have been consulted. As a civil servant, I know all there is to know about writing such letters. There are ways to be polite even when exploding with rage. After this, he might want nothing to do with us. Then we’re done for.

WOLKE

Nevertheless, Hicketier has done his duty.

KREY

Is that enough? It’s success that counts.

WOLKE

What should he have written? “We are honored … we implore you…” to a man in the poorhouse?

HICKETIER

And who could tell the whole town he can make us sit up and beg?

KREY

Nonsense. If he refuses, we can’t sing. The crown is lost.

WOLKE

Indeed, yes, and – how to put it?

HICKETIER

Our situation is catastrophic.

WOLKE

I’m at a loss for words.

KREY

In the opinion of well-respected judges, Schippel’s voice is superior to Naumann’s. With him, we’d be able to compete with any quartet from any village in the Principality.

WOLKE

You think so?

KREY

But I can’t imagine any person accepting our offer after such a rude invitation.

HICKETIER

“Person?” That horn-tooting wretch? One word from us and he’d be out in the street.

WOLKE

O Gott, O Gott, mein lieber Gott im Himmel!

HICKETIER

Wolke …

WOLKE

O Gott, O Gott. Krey, what are you saying?

KREY

“Present yourself.” Ha!

HICKETIER

I suppose you could have done better? I am a Hicketier. Goldsmiths since the Thirty Years’ War.

WOLKE

The Wolkes are just as distinguished.

KREY

So should I, a mere high-ranking civil servant, have prostituted myself? Why didn’t you come to me? I have a whole arsenal of meaningless phrases at my command.

HICKETIER

What should we do?

WOLKE

One thing is certain: We cannot withdraw from the festival.

HICKETIER

To abandon as men what inspired us as boys?

WOLKE

Madness!

HICKETIER

It’s the legacy of my forefathers. It’s what we promised to hold sacred at the deathbed of our dear departed friend …

KREY

And, since members of any quartet must be born in and be residents of this town, and since no other tenor is to be found here, we are —

HICKETIER

We’re at Schippel’s mercy.

WOLKE

And knowing that, Hicketier, you wrote that letter? I’m sweating blood. And water.

HICKETIER

I was in a state of absolute upheaval, yet I forced myself to do more than any human being could be expected to do, in the circumstances.

KREY

Well, it wasn’t enough.

WOLKE

Lieber Gott, help us out of this unholy mess. Amen.

            (KREY has been looking out the window. Suddenly:)

KREY

Here comes Schippel!

HICKETIER & WOLKE

            (together)

Ha?

HICKETIER

Summoned for three, and it’s not yet one. What’s the meaning of this?

KREY

It could be a bad omen.

WOLKE

How so? My knees are shaking. Krey, you’ve got me all muddled up.

KREY

Pull yourself together, you dishrag!

HICKETIER

Who will talk to him?

KREY

It’s your house. And your invitation.

WOLKE

Be careful. Kid gloves.

KREY

Open-minded, but absolute.

WOLKE

Easy does it.

            (Enter PAUL SCHIPPEL, thin, with red hair, about 30.)

SCHIPPEL

Schippel … Paul.

HICKETIER

Very good.

SCHIPPEL

You’re Hicketier?

HICKETIER

Herr. Herr Hicketier. I must insist –

WOLKE

Pssst!

SCHIPPEL

I beg your pardon?

WOLKE

            (bowing)

Wolke, owner of the printing shop, and conseiller municipal.

KREY

Krey.

HICKETIER

And you — ?

SCHIPPEL

Me? I play the clarinet. You know – black wood, nickel keys – Get it?

            (WOLKE mimes playing.)

WOLKE

I think so.

SCHIPPEL

            (laughing)

Wonderful imitation.  — Meine Herren, I am poor. From the bottom of the barrel, as you would say in your circle. This coat is my entire wardrobe. And I’m a lousy player.

WOLKE

Lousy. Right.

SCHIPPEL

Otherwise, I’d play in a good orchestra, not a beer-hall band. When I play, it’s desperate, like a man on the gallows.

            (He laughs uncontrollably.)

HICKETIER

I haven’t over-estimated you.

SCHIPPEL

Oh, yes, you have. Most respected gentlemen, my playing is dreadful. When I tootle, even the beer goes flat.

WOLKE

            (laughing immoderately)

Sehr gut.

SCHIPPEL

You want to know what I make? About 20 marks a week. In other words, two days of meat, five days of hay, and that’s from the horse’s mouth.

WOLKE

Enough.

SCHIPPEL

Sleep in an attic, my comb has no teeth, not a bristle in my toothbrush. That’s my story.

HICKETIER

Spare us the revolting details. Your history is known to us.

SCHIPPEL

You astound me, Herr Hicketier.

HICKETIER

You are illegitimate.

            (SCHIPPEL laughs. WOLKE laughs.)

SCHIPPEL

How easily that rolls off your tongue. In surroundings like these, I could never say such a word. What a man of the world you are! You’ve broken the ice. No need to beat around the bush: my origins are … unknown.

KREY

A small accident.

HICKETIER

Let’s leave it there.

WOLKE

Ja. In the dark.

SCHIPPEL

Excuse me, meine Herren, it is relevant. Let us be honest: I am a bastard. I’ll bet I’m the first one you’ve ever met.

KREY

The social phenomenon is quite common — and growing.

WOLKE

Being a trustee of an orphanage, I am well acquainted with it.

SCHIPPEL

One could easily say it’s stood the test of time, and what’s more —

HICKETIER

Enough of this. Would you like to sing with us?

SCHIPPEL

Kindly let me finish. I want you to know just how insignificant I am.

KREY

That’s his story.

SCHIPPEL

Don’t you see, my head is always bowed?

HICKETIER

Why would I even notice?

SCHIPPEL

It’s like this. I feel insecure, and that’s the way I am. And then, these surroundings … the opulence makes my head swim. Beg your pardon; I’ll get hold of myself. When I was a child, I tried to play with other children in the street. Naturally, they kicked me. One girl even spat in my face. So I’m more familiar with earth than heaven, and that’s why I keep my head bowed.

WOLKE

Such things don’t happen any more. The orphans in my care enjoy everything that … how to put it?

SCHIPPEL

See, I’ve spent my life crouched in a dank garret. Your letter arrives. Suddenly, everything’s changed. No longer ignored, despised, parched, starved for everything in sight.

HICKETIER

So you think this letter’s a release from your proletarian bondage?

SCHIPPEL

On the money! Please understand the unsettled state you see me in. From one moment to the next, I was totally transformed, reborn, one might say.

HICKETIER

That’s lovely. Somewhat too personal.

            (SCHIPPEL walks around the room and stops in front of a painting.)           

SCHIPPEL

A heavenly picture. Painted in oil. I can tell.

HICKETIER

You’ll sing for us today, and we’ll decide.

            (SCHIPPEL lets out a shining A that he holds for a very long time.)

KREY

Oho!

HICKETIER

That sound tells me —

WOLKE

Bravo!

SCHIPPEL

Jawohl, meine lieben Herren, jawohl, it’s going to be heavenly. And by the way, my mother was a saint.

            (He takes hold of HICKETIER’s lapel.)

HICKETIER

Don’t touch my coat!

SCHIPPEL

No offense.

            (He holds out his hand to HICKETIER, who pretends not to see it.)

Your hand, Herr Hicketier. Your hand.

HICKETIER

This is strictly a business arrangement.

SCHIPPEL

Just give me your hand.

HICKETIER

Strictly business!

SCHIPPEL

Why won’t you shake my hand?

WOLKE

Hicketier!

SCHIPPEL

A simple request, nicht wahr? What I’m asking is only natural. Perfectly normal. I expect to shake hands here, there, and everywhere. I expect to be addressed by name in the street, in the biergarten, and in your homes. Understand?

KREY

Admission to the quartet does not imply a social relationship.

SCHIPPEL

“Does not imply?” Meaning what? My voice is good enough for you, but not my hand?

            (He shakes both KREY’s hands violently.)

HICKETIER

Are you insane?

WOLKE

O Gott! O Gott!

KREY

This is too much!

HICKETIER

Enough! You’ve gone berserk. Pull yourself together. Face facts. You are a nobody. You are completely at our mercy for your keep and for whatever crumbs we throw at you. We can take that away from you whenever we like. However, if your voice passes muster, we are prepared to raise your state. A new jacket, and a shiny coin in your wallet. That’s it. Meanwhile, keep your hands to yourself.

KREY

Basta!

SCHIPPEL

Ach, so?

            (He bangs his fist on the table.)

HICKETIER & KREY

Mein Herr!

WOLKE

Understood?

SCHIPPEL

Also, meine Herren: Mahlzeit!

            (SCHIPPEL exits.)

KREY

What did he mean by that?

WOLKE

He’s turned us down. The game is over.

HICKETIER

We’re back where we started.

WOLKE

In a nutshell, case closed. He clearly laid out his conditions. I would even say he was delicate, almost feminine. Then Hicketier loses his temper and spoils everything. Now? We’re done for.

HICKETIER

Right from the beginning, that creature was determined to break down a barrier that for me is made of steel.

KREY

If he knew how to respect our boundaries, we could have made certain concessions.

WOLKE

But everything he said was wrapped in “If you please,” and “Would you be so kind.”

HICKETIER

Perhaps, but underneath all that I could smell what he was really after: personal contact. Intimacy. (Enraged:) Is this fellow going to clap me on the back in front of the whole world? Have you no shame? If we give the animal one finger, he’ll wrap himself around it like a weed, and strangle us. Good God, poor people stink! Open the window.

WOLKE

But what about the A that he sang? Don’t you understand that with that note alone we would have won the crown? So to speak.

KREY

Nothing could be more certain. Naumann couldn’t hold a candle to him.

HICKETIER

It breaks my heart, but I can’t bring myself to mix like that, any more than I would mingle with the nobility. I like my world clearly defined, above and below. Anything else makes my flesh crawl. We have just buried Naumann. Our grief is great, but greater still is the loss of our most sacred dream.

WOLKE

Is Schippel the only solution?

KREY

In a word, yes. The festival is in less than two weeks. There is no other tenor to be found.

HICKETIER

This person, if we allowed him in, would not hesitate to cozy up to our women. How could one even explain to a maiden like Thekla the existence of such a mongrel? Guter Gott!

WOLKE

Even so, it’s heartbreaking.

HICKETIER

Please! Not another oration. Not two in one day. Such is life. Such is fate.

            (Exit HICKETIER.)

WOLKE

Thekla! So that’s it! If it were only Hicketier, he could bear to have Schippel around. But Thekla, that – how to put it? – that defenseless maiden, the pure and naïve Fräulein Hicketier …

KREY

What are you getting at?

WOLKE

As a result of Naumann’s death, she is no longer protected from such an individual. Can you deny it? And that’s what’s tipped the scale!

KREY

So?

WOLKE

All right, look. It’s just the two of us. You can be straight with me.

KREY

You don’t say.

WOLKE

Come now, don’t be bashful.

KREY

God Almighty.

WOLKE

You love Thekla. And if Hicketier knew that you were taking her under your wing —

KREY

This is monstrous! Because I can’t compete with your vile tongue, I have to put up with this stinking comedy. You love the woman, not I.

WOLKE

No, you do.

KREY

To me, she’s torture! The sight of her makes me nauseous. The mere smell … revolting!

WOLKE

I see right through you.

KREY

Sodom und Gomorrah! Listen, I am content with my life, but you –

WOLKE

You love her! Take her! Seize the moment!

KREY

You love her! I’ve known it for years.

WOLKE

You love her! You can bleat it through heavenly trumpets, you’re still lying. I know you love her. I’m begging you, get us out of this disastrous situation. Surrender to your own happiness.

            (KREY hurries out. WOLKE runs after him.) 

KREY

I’d rather hang myself!

WOLKE

You pig-headed fool. Don’t be so proud. I’m not giving up.

            (A confused noise outside. Immediately, KREY opens the door and appears in the doorway with a deep bow. Enter THE PRINCE, in uniform. He is in his twenties. KREY and WOLKE follow him into the room.)

THE PRINCE

Where am I? Whose house is this?

KREY

            (bowing again)

Your Highness, this is the home of the Hicketiers.

THE PRINCE

Go and get me some strips of linen and a bowl of water. Send a message to the castle. Get the doctor down here.

            (KREY runs out. The PRINCE sits in an armchair and opens the torn sleeve of his tunic. He suddenly stares at WOLKE, who is pressed shyly against the wall. WOLKE bows deeply.)

WOLKE

Wolke.

THE PRINCE

What? — That verdammte horse! One blast from a steam engine and he takes off like a shot. No holding him back. I steer him into the street, then run him along the wall of this house. Some servant grabs the reins, and that stops him. The brute!

WOLKE

Amazing!

THE PRINCE

Schwein! From now on, you’re on a tight rein.

            (HICKETIER and KREY enter, bowing.)

HICKETIER

What a mishap. Your Grace, Your Highness.

THE PRINCE

Water, linen … a woman would be best …

HICKETIER

My wife is bringing some right away.

            (WOLKE bows again.)

WOLKE

Wolke!

THE PRINCE

I heard you. What’s your point? – Now, Herr Hicketier …

HICKETIER

How may I be of service?

THE PRINCE

Filthy nag. My arm is bleeding. What a cursèd day. An old witch ran across my path. Cold, drizzle, grey clouds. Now I know the meaning of melancholy.

            (THE PRINCE collapses. KREY rushes over to him.)

KREY

Your Highness! — Fainted.

            (HICKETIER and WOLKE race aimlessly around the room, then toward the door. Enter JENNY and THEKLA. JENNY is carrying a bowl of water; THEKLA carries linen bandages. THEKLA kneels in front of THE PRINCE, takes his arm, which is hanging limply, and begins to clean and bandage it. Meanwhile, JENNY does everything possible to bring him around. THE PRINCE wakes up.)

THE PRINCE

The bridle … Was ist? Heavenly vision!

            (THEKLA finishes her work.)

Kindness itself. Pure grace. Ich danke. Charmante.

            (The WOMEN exit.)

HICKETIER

Your Highness, she has learned how to care for the sick.

THE PRINCE

I tell you, la charité en personne. I never knew what that meant. Until this moment, merely a word. This bandage … a masterpiece. Charmante. Horse lost its head. The brute.

            (He gets up and grabs his cap.)

Pardon – did I not have a whip?

            (to Wolke:)

Why did you keep saying “Wolke?”

KREY

That’s his name, your Highness. He owns a printing business.

THE PRINCE

Aha! That Wolke! The blue sign in the market square: “All Types of Printing Speedily Executed.”

WOLKE

And at the most reasonable rates.

THE PRINCE

Delighted. Who were those ladies? Where did they go?

HICKETIER

My wife Jenny, and my younger sister Thekla. Tomorrow’s her birthday.

THE PRINCE

Thekla … Mein lieber Herr Hicketier, you are not unknown to us. There was a time …

HICKETIER

Your Highness, as a child, during the late Prince’s reign —

THE PRINCE

Yes, yes. — So this is Herr Wolke. No subversive writings? Nothing socialist? Anarchist?

WOLKE

Your Highness! Out of the question.

KREY

Krey. Civil servant.

THE PRINCE

Bravo! The middle class, meine Herren, and the civil service … hmm. But my guardian angel? Why am I denied the opportunity to express my gratitude?

HICKETIER

Sofort!

            (He exits. THE PRINCE sees the golden crown.)

THE PRINCE

What’s this? A golden crown?

KREY

Won twice by our quartet.

THE PRINCE

Of course! My father’s famous crown for the singing competition. Meine Herren, you are our very own Meistersinger, as it were. That reminds me – oh, what a sin of omission! – it’s in two weeks, I know, and we still haven’t chosen the compulsory song.

            (To himself:)

Here I am, drowning in boredom, with such delicious distractions so close by.

            (Aloud:)

Yes, men’s voices singing in harmony, so essential, so close to the soul of the people – a bulwark against the onslaught of an age without ideals. The German Lied, meine Herren! We know the importance of this imminent event, and the shining glory that will rain down upon your Prince.

            (To himself:)

Himmel, where’s all this coming from?

            (Aloud:)

You’ve won this crown twice. You must not lose it now. This time above all, victory must be yours.

            (WOLKE and KREY bow. HICKETIER returns with JENNY and THEKLA.)

My dear Hicketier, these gentlemen know my views on the prize song.

            (He bows to JENNY and kisses her hand.)

Gracious lady!

            (He bows to THEKLA.)

Ma chère, may heaven protect you …

            (Very quietly, to her:)

Thekla.

            (THE PRINCE salutes and leaves. The OTHERS bow deeply. THEKLA sinks into the same chair that THE PRINCE sat in. She is invisible to the OTHERS onstage for the rest of the scene.)

WOLKE

My legs are like jelly.

HICKETIER

He was standing — right there.

KREY

Your roof, over the Prince’s head!

JENNY

Let us hope his wound heals quickly.

KREY

And the way he spoke – so simple, so down to earth.

WOLKE

And so cordial! “Our Wolke,” his Wolke. But of course.

HICKETIER

From a different world, a higher sphere.

WOLKE

“You must win the competition, meine Herren.” There it is.

HICKETIER

He said that?

KREY

In no uncertain terms. And the look he gave us —

WOLKE

Piercing, yet affable. “The German Lied staving off anarchy. Charmant. None but you must win the crown.”

JENNY

            (to HICKETIER)

Dinner’s ready.

            (She exits.)

KREY

Given such an order, what are we to do?

HICKETIER

It will have to be one of you.

WOLKE

            (to HICKETIER)

All right, let’s be frank. Among us all, only you have the power. Only you can lure Schippel back without making us lose face.

KREY

Besides, our feelings don’t matter any more. Now it’s a question of honor – or dishonor! – in the eyes of the Prince.

HICKETIER

But –

WOLKE

The Prince! Ach, Hicketier, look me in the eye and tell me, Prince or no Prince, that you would sit back and not do everything in your power to make our dream come true?

KREY

Unless you get Schippel back, you won’t be able to live with yourself.

WOLKE

That’s the truth.

            (Pause.)

HICKETIER

Very well. Once again, we’re in turmoil. Once again, in the name of honor and duty, I take the bull by the horns.

WOLKE

            (quietly to HICKETIER)

And as for Thekla, I have a suggestion.

HICKETIER

            (laughing)

As usual!

WOLKE

Give me your hands, meine Herren, we must see this through: Swear.

            (Together down center, HICKETIER, KREY and WOLKE give each other their hands simultaneously.)

ALL THREE

We swear!

KREY

I feel better now.

WOLKE

An eventful morning. “The bravest warrior wins the day, then eats and drinks the night away.” Hicketier, the glory will be yours.

HICKETIER

Not so fast. I still have to deal with that horrible creature. But now, meine Herren, come to dinner.

(HICKETIER exits.)

KREY

We must have a word in private.

WOLKE

What? What do you mean?

KREY

You fake. You camel trader!

WOLKE

I have nothing to hide.

            (They exit. THEKLA runs to the window and throws it open. She leans out and waves a handkerchief. Lights down.)

 

ACT ONE

Scene 2

            (The next day, the same room. Lights up on THEKLA, alone. There is a knock on the window. THEKLA opens it slightly. An arm appears. Its hand bears a letter. THEKLA takes the letter and closes the window. She opens the letter and reads it. As she does so, WOLKE enters.)

THEKLA

Was ist das? – Ach, it’s him! Tonight, around ten o’clock, he wants to … mein Gott!

WOLKE

May I ask, not to be nosy, if your brother has returned?

THEKLA

To eliminate any suspicion of intrigue: Here.

(She offers WOLKE the letter, which he does not take.)

WOLKE

For heaven’s sake, Thekla. There’s no need. The divine plan is unfolding as it should. Birthday greetings flying through the window. Permit me to add my own. I know all about it. My knowledge of human nature unveiled the little secret long before the evidence was clear. I even enlightened the lover about his own inclinations.

THEKLA

What? Who?

WOLKE

Allow me to give you a clear explanation. You must know that since you were a little girl, I too have had a special regard for you. Nothing could change that, this side the grave. But now, I notice that Krey –

THEKLA

Krey?

WOLKE

When you are present, he feigns indifference, a certain je ne sais quoi, a certain … how to put it?

THEKLA

You mean that Krey – and … and you too?

WOLKE

Ach, here is where it turns tragic. My great sense of honor compels me to admit that Krey is superior to me in every way. Ergo, I withdraw. You may suspect that Krey has forced me to say this, but I swear I am driven only by what is in my heart to tell you of his complete manliness, his worthiness, his significance, his laudable character, his loyalty, his uprightness, his iron will – and, at the same time, his sobriety, and his noble restraint, not only in regard to you-know-what, but —

THEKLA

I’ve always found him pleasant enough. But you mentioned sobriety. You make him sound dull.

WOLKE

Krey? Dull? O du guter Gott, the man has the most extravagant ideas! Everything he does arises from the silent grandeur of his innermost thoughts. Not dull, but shy, to such a degree that we must force him to confess his passion. And so, I would ask you, please, Thekla …

THEKLA

To encourage him?

            (to herself:)

Could this serve my purposes?

            (Aloud:)

What you’re asking a Mädchen to do —

WOLKE

I’m driven by friendship! What does my renunciation cost me? A few words. Yet my heart is heavy.

            (He grabs her hand and kisses it.)

THEKLA

May your wisdom be my guide.

(She leaves, laughing quietly to herself.)

WOLKE

Bullseye! If Krey continues to deny the truth, then someone will have to pry it out of him.

            (Enter JENNY.)

WOLKE

So, he’s not yet returned from seeing Schippel?

JENNY

He was moaning and groaning all night long. He was battling demons.

WOLKE

Better to battle demons in dreams than to stifle feelings, the way Krey does.

JENNY

Oh, is he suffering, too?

WOLKE

About Schippel, yes, but there’s more. A letter from Krey to Thekla just flew through that window.

JENNY

Secret messages? Are you mad?

WOLKE

You know me, Jenny; I am a moderate man. I held that letter in these hands. He loves her.

JENNY

Unmöglich!

WOLKE

In black and white. What’s more, written with such reverence, such purity –

JENNY

Tilmann won’t like that. He was already reluctant to give her to Naumann, who was much closer to him than Krey.

WOLKE

But his shining virtues! The restrained power of his overwhelming passion! I beg you, in the name of our friendship –

JENNY

Let’s wait till this business with Schippel is sorted out. Meanwhile, what about Thekla?

WOLKE

She did not say it in so many words, but with my profound knowledge of human nature, I would be blind not to notice that within her fair form, the little bird of love is about to take wing.

JENNY

If that is the case, I promise every assistance. She did mention a man crouching by the wall last night, looking up at her.

WOLKE

It was Krey! Probatum est.

            (HICKETIER enters.)

HICKETIER

Victory! I turned into Windischgasse, and suddenly, there was Schippel! After a few words, the business was settled. He will return.

JENNY

Gott sei dank!

HICKETIER

He’d reconsidered. The Prince’s decree about our Festival was in the morning paper. He’d memorized every word!

WOLKE

The audition must be today! Every minute counts.

HICKETIER

He’s on his way.

            (to JENNY:)

Leave the door open. He mustn’t be seen loitering in front of the house.

(JENNY exits.)

WOLKE

What I said about Thekla stands.

HICKETIER

I appreciate your sentiments, and I can guess your intentions, but don’t do anything until this calamity is resolved.  By the way, Krey is also making subtle hints about you.

WOLKE

Not possible!

HICKETIER

 Quite possible, but I can only deal with one thing at a time. Have you seen the birthday girl?

WOLKE

Through the cloud of sorrow at what is lost, shines the first ray of hope reborn.

HICKETIER

How poetic.

(Overcome, WOLKE shakes his hand and leaves.)

He loves Thekla.

            (HICKETIER takes a gold armband, made in the shape of a laurel crown, from his desk. He holds it to the light, comparing it with the crown from the singing contest.)

An exact replica of the original. Even if I lose that crown, this one I’ve made for Thekla will never be lost. What will she think of my work of art?

            (Enter THEKLA.)

HICKETIER

I was just about to call you. Komm’ her.

THEKLA

Was ist’s?

HICKETIER

Made by my own hands. Guess for whom?

THEKLA

It’s for me. Who else? Danke.

(She sits on his lap.)

HICKETIER

Now, little Thekla, with the passage of time, the ties that have bound us together since you were a child will weaken. Do you understand the significance of this gift?

(She puts her arms around his neck.)

THEKLA

I cling to you, as always.

HICKETIER

Though the sibling love which inhabits the soul of the Hicketiers may fade, this golden wreath will be a constant reminder of that bond. Whenever you’re alone, you will remember.

THEKLA

That is sad, and so unnecessary. Even without this, I could never forget my family or my childhood.

HICKETIER

The women of our family have rarely prospered. What is inner strength in our men becomes sheer whimsy in our women. Even as you cleave to your husband, the closer you and I remain, the more spiritually intimate we will be, and the more your needs will be satisfied.

THEKLA

No matter what tears me away from you, there will always be something that brings me back.

HICKETIER

Will that always be the case?

THEKLA

It’s my birthday. Don’t be so serious.

HICKETIER

Here, allow me.

            (He takes her arm.)

Wear this under your clothes. It will be our secret.

            (He puts the armband on her.)

Your family home will be your refuge. Here, your most private thoughts are your own. You have my word on that. Here is my hand.

            (They shake hands.)

Now, you little minx, listen to me. One minute, you’re almost a widow, and the next, you have a new admirer, in hot pursuit.

THEKLA

I know …

HICKETIER

Given your beauty, it’s natural that everyone wants you, not to mention our old honorable name and the sack of gold that come with you! Does your admirer have potential?

THEKLA

Potential? Ach, Gott!

            (She runs out.)

HICKETIER

Look at that. What an adorable child.

            (HICKETIER exits. Lights down.)

 

ACT ONE

Scene 3

            (Later, the same day. Lights up. JENNY shows in SCHIPPEL and exits. SCHIPPEL stands in the middle of the room and looks around.)

SCHIPPEL

I can’t believe it. After thirty years of starvation, luxury! No longer a dead leaf tossed in the wind. From one day to the next, I will have gained a name that people will reckon with. As fat Hicketier fell asleep last night, I’m sure he was thinking, “If I could only get that Schippel…”

(He tiptoes around the room.)

Plush furniture! Your highnesses, take note of me. It is my privilege to loll around on you.

(He sits in an armchair.)

Or to look leisurely through a photograph album.

(He starts leafing through one.)

Someone comes, I stand, and I casually say, “How do you do? I have a right to be here. I was invited, almost dragged.” Fine people, the lot of them, all related, honorable, worthy. Gold brooches and chains. Fat signet rings. “Guten Tag, Herr, delighted to make your acquaintance! I am Paul Schippel, the darling of the house. I can do whatever I like.”

            (He belches.)

“Aber, Herr Schippel!” “A little burp, my dear Bishop. It’s permitted after a good meal, among friends.”

            (HICKETIER enters.)

HICKETIER

À propos of what transpired yesterday…

SCHIPPEL

Forget it. What’s past is past. Today is a new day.

HICKETIER

Very well. We were worried, despite your remarkable voice, that given your origins, you might not fathom the historical greatness of the German Lied.

SCHIPPEL

That’s harsh.

HICKETIER

I don’t mince words.

SCHIPPEL

I don’t need to be pampered. We just need to reach an understanding. Maybe we’ll get lucky, and the Prince will choose a song about Wanderlust, or some old forest, or a good roll in the hay – which, given my origins, as you put it, I would be particularly well-suited to interpret.

HICKETIER

Where did you learn breathing, phrasing?

SCHIPPEL

From my clarinet. My pipes open and close just like the stops on my clarinet.

HICKETIER

Do you practice in front of a mirror?

SCHIPPEL

I know my gullet like the back of my hand. My little uvula works like a glockenspiel.

HICKETIER

So, shall we sing together?

SCHIPPEL

I hereby commit myself to the cause.

HICKETIER

Bravo. Just a word about behavior in society —

SCHIPPEL

I get it. Easy does it. I’ll keep the brakes on. And the paws off.

HICKETIER

You see in me a man firmly rooted in tradition. With me, things take time to develop.

SCHIPPEL

Got it. Not like me, shot up in a flash out of nothing. Like they say, when the stalk’s thin, the head wobbles. I’ll have to break that habit. You’re right. Mustn’t give in to those impulses.

HICKETIER

Slow but steady.

SCHIPPEL

No jumping in. No grabbing.

(SCHIPPEL holds out his arms to HICKETIER.)

HICKETIER

What’s wrong with you?

SCHIPPEL

No slapping you on the belly. Don’t touch!

(SCHIPPEL slaps HICKETIER on the belly.)

“Morning, Hicketier, old pal!”

HICKETIER

I beg your pardon! What are you doing?

SCHIPPEL

            (controlling himself)

Not so crude. Understood. Keep your distance.

HICKETIER

            (furious)

Indeed! You behave! Or else –

SCHIPPEL

Kurz. I accept. I’ll sing like Gabriel’s horn. We’re unbeatable. When do we start?

HICKETIER

Tonight. Eight o’clock, here.

SCHIPPEL

Agreed.

HICKETIER

And always with the understanding that, if you conduct yourself in future according to my express wishes, I shall keep my promise and put a penny in your purse. (Beat.) I’ll get twenty marks from the till right now.

(Exit HICKETIER.)

SCHIPPEL

What a dinosaur. What an ass. Yesterday, I was like a rabbit cowering in the cabbage patch. Now I feel such colossal strength rising within me, I have knives growing on my toes and sabres on my teeth. My good man, I’m afraid I’m going to soil your tidy parlor, and my company will rub you raw.

            (THEKLA enters and crosses through the room, ignoring SCHIPPEL’s bow. SCHIPPEL follows her, imitating her haughty walk, then stops center stage.)

Frosty Fräulein flutters forth, and marks the gulf between us. What do you smell like, my little dove?

            (He walks where she walked, sniffing.)

Lovely.

            (HICKETIER returns.)

HICKETIER

Who was here?

            (He gives SCHIPPEL a gold coin. Laughing, SCHIPPEL takes it.)

SCHIPPEL

If you only knew …

HICKETIER

Don’t tell me — !

SCHIPPEL

A pretty little pipit. Back a moment sooner, you’d have had to make a formal introduction.

HICKETIER

Out of the question. When it comes to my family, the strictest privacy.

SCHIPPEL

Obviously. But …

HICKETIER

What?

SCHIPPEL

We sing here tonight at eight o’clock.

HICKETIER

But? Out with it!

SCHIPPEL

My lips are sealed. Wild notions. In your drawing room, I’m filled with dynamite.

            (He laughs.)

Filled with dynamite: Das ist gut, was? But I know what’s what: Get out fast, before I explode. Auf Abend.

(Exit SCHIPPEL.)

HICKETIER

            (trembling)

“But?” “If you only knew — ” What? Thekla came through here. I’ve got goosebumps all over. — Jenny!

            (Enter JENNY.)

There’ll be too many men in this house until the festival’s done. That child is leaving today. She’s going to her aunt in Naumburg.

JENNY

Krey slipped her a letter through the window today.

HICKETIER

Krey?! Quick, pack her bag. Send her in here.

(Exit JENNY.)

Krey too? Even the apes are after her. Wolke and Krey? A letter through the window? Just a while ago, we were so close, but she never said a word.

(Enter THEKLA.)

Krey’s letter. Give it to me.  — Give me the letter.

THEKLA

Tilmann, the letter wasn’t from Krey.

HICKETIER

So it’s from Wolke. Hand it over. Behind my back. Why?

THEKLA

It’s not from Wolke either.

HICKETIER

Not from Wolke? Not from Krey?

            (He sinks into a chair, then jumps up.)

Grosser Gott! Nein, nein, nein! Sag nein!

THEKLA

To what?

HICKETIER

Child, I am going mad. Out with it. It’s my fault. All I’ve been thinking about is the crown. I forgot about you. Who is it from? Thekla!

            (They are looking into each other’s eyes. She tries to leave. He pulls her closer.)

Tell me who! (whispering) Schippel?

THEKLA

Are you insane?

HICKETIER

Then for God’s sake, who is it?

THEKLA

That’s my business!

(She runs out, slamming the door.)

HICKETIER

A fox is in the henhouse. She has to go away.  — But whoever he is, I’ll get him.

(Lights down.)

ACT ONE

Scene 4

            (That night, about ten. A garden behind Hicketier’s house. A fence is visible on the right. THEKLA is leaning out of a second story window. The PRINCE, in a black cloak, enters. He hugs the wall beneath THEKLA’s window.)

THE PRINCE

Thekla!

THEKLA

There he is!

THE PRINCE

I had to creep along the edge of the forest, in the dark, step by step. I needed the patience of a saint. The worst part was having to slink by five or six houses that still had their lights on. Don’t my subjects ever sleep? I must pass a law.

THEKLA

Noble sir, we do have a parliament.

THE PRINCE

So now young girls know about politics?

THEKLA

These days, girls get a thorough education. I know science and I can even read a train schedule. But princes who sneak up to a girl’s window in the night exist only in fairy tales. Or so they say.

THE PRINCE

If I’m caught, I shall be the Sultan Haroun al-Raschid, making sure his people are well looked after. They’d believe that, wouldn’t they?

THEKLA

People see you as melancholy. Goes with the night and the black cloak.

THE PRINCE

Does Thekla see me as melancholy?

THEKLA

It’s hard to see the Prince as melancholy when he wears a monocle, even at night. Perhaps he will say that he cannot see without it. In any case, a truly melancholy man sees only the abyss in his own heart.

THE PRINCE

The ladies say the monocle becomes me.

THEKLA

In folk songs, princes always wear shining swords. But when they appear beneath a maiden’s window, they’re also wearing a dagger. Every self-respecting maiden demands a dagger.

THE PRINCE

I am more like the legendary Eberhard von Wittenberg, who, unarmed, could lay his head in the lap of any of his subjects. Can Thekla guess what ardent wish I’m wishing at this moment?

THEKLA

To be Prince Eberhard?

THE PRINCE

Nothing less.

THEKLA

And, like him, a mere child when you assumed your duties, you want to be loved by the people?

THE PRINCE

Bravo. Are you the people, Thekla?

THEKLA

Ja.

THE PRINCE

My subject?

THEKLA

Jawohl.

THE PRINCE

I, like a hero in Shakespeare, appear! You, maiden, have caught my eye. With a voice of thunder, I command you: Komm’ hier.

THEKLA

Ach, Shakespeare’s old hat. That was three hundred years ago.

THE PRINCE

Oh. How would a modern poet do it?

THEKLA

If you want to be convincing, you’ll have to involve parliament. You are a constitutional monarch.

THE PRINCE

So, I will summon parliament.

THEKLA

What about the Social Democrats?

THE PRINCE

There’s only one. He’ll be outvoted. The others do what I tell them.

THEKLA

Well, first they’ll have to get my brother and his cronies out of this house. They’re in my way.

THE PRINCE

Why aren’t they in bed?

THEKLA

Important business. They’re reviving their quartet. The old tenor died and they’ve found a new one. In two weeks, the Prince’s laurel crown will be won or lost.

THE PRINCE

This singing business will allow me to maintain official contact with your family for the next few weeks. Tomorrow morning, I shall grant your brother an audience. – Ssh!

            (In a brightly lit window on the ground floor, SCHIPPEL’s silhouette passes by. He sings an aria from Otto Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor.)

SCHIPPEL

            (singing, off)

“HORCH, DIE LERCHE SINGT IM HAIN.

LAUSCHE, LAUSCHE, LIEBCHEN STILL,

LAUSCHE, LAUSCHE, LIEBCHEN STILL.

ÖFFNE SACHT DEM FENSTERLEIN,

HÖRE, HÖRE, WAS SIE WILL,

HÖRE, HÖRE, WAS SIE WILL.”

(Applause, off)

THE PRINCE

Beautifully sung. Why isn’t a voice like that one of the glories of my court theatre?

THEKLA

Because the singer is a bastard.

THE PRINCE

So it is Shakespeare! Bastards are his specialty. Bastards and princes. You must admit, this is a moment worthy of poetry. And my monocle has disappeared.

THEKLA

Those telegraph poles over there aren’t very poetic.

THE PRINCE

But what are they, compared with a bastard, a prince – and surprise! – here’s a dagger. Actually, it’s only a hunting knife, but with a little imagination –

THEKLA

I’ve got that.

THE PRINCE

We need a ladder.

THEKLA

Over there in the shed. Stop! No one ever saw Haroun al-Raschid on a ladder.

THE PRINCE

It’s a modern version.

THEKLA

And the maiden’s honor — ?

THE PRINCE

Is shielded by the Sultan’s cloak.

THEKLA

A parlor and a ladder: Not very romantic.

THE PRINCE

A ladder and a parlor: The bourgeois setting of my dreams.

            (HICKETIER appears at the ground-floor window. He opens the curtains and looks out into the darkness. Farther back in the room, SCHIPPEL, KREY and WOLKE are standing around the piano.)

THEKLA

This is madness. I don’t dare. I had the most awful scene with my brother. He knows about the letter. To put his mind at rest, I told my sister-in-law it was just your thanks for my help yesterday. Nevertheless, he’s ordered me to leave town first thing in the morning. He’s scared.

THE PRINCE

Of whom?

THEKLA

Of you. Who else?

THE PRINCE

Are you scared?

(HICKETIER disappears from the window.)

THEKLA

I love Tilmann. His Angst is so painful to see.

THE PRINCE

Then I am intruding on your peace and quiet. Am I leading an angel astray?

THEKLA

Angel? Since yesterday, my every breath is a sin. Aber ein Prinz! A melancholy hero. For years, I have been singing folk songs with my brother, songs about a sad prince who comes out of nowhere, and thus, I was his before he appeared in the flesh.

THE PRINCE

Is he what you hoped for?

THEKLA

Completely.

THE PRINCE

Thekla, that is a confession.

THEKLA

It’s meant to be. Otherwise, would I be talking with you from my window at night?

THE PRINCE

Do you trust me?

THEKLA

Absolutely.

THE PRINCE

Listen: Tomorrow, I will meet you up by the hunting lodge.

THEKLA

Not possible. I must leave. It’s been decided.

THE PRINCE

Don’t you dare. Not tomorrow morning. Not until you’ve seen me one more time. Between six and seven in the morning, I’ll order everyone out of the lodge. I will ride up the bridle path wearing a green hunting jacket, a hat with oak leaves, and a hunting knife at my side. Is that romantic enough? If you like, I will also wear a decoration, a little gold wreath given me by my belovèd cousin, the Kaiser.

THEKLA

What shall I wear?

THE PRINCE

Something in cotton. Nothing fancy. Come to me as one of your own class. As you are: Heavenly.

THEKLA

            (humming, then singing:)

“IHR HÄSLEIN WEISZ, IHR SCHWARZES ÄUGLEINKLAR,

DAZU TRÄGT SIE EIN GOLDFARBKRAUSES HAAR.

IHR WEITER LEIB IST WEISSER ALS KEIN HERMELEIN …”

THE PRINCE

Coming from you, these thoughts move me deeply, and all this business of your brother singing for the crown, ah, such noble bourgeois ambition goes straight to my heart. In our forests, in the little villages, there dwells the very spirit of these songs, and it brings tears to my eyes.

THEKLA

They are born within us and they’re part of our lives. Our region possesses the most beautiful songs. They can all be found in Des Knaben Wunderhorn.

THE PRINCE

That’s why your Prince is duty-bound to cherish them.

THEKLA

I’ll teach you all you need to know.

THE PRINCE

And the prettiest songs will be sung in the morning.

            (Inside, the QUARTET sings the Huntsmen’s Chorus from Act Three of Der Freischütz. HICKETIER can be seen in the middle, waving a baton.)

THE QUARTET

“WAS GLEICH WOHL AUF ERDEN DEM JÄGERVERGNUGEN,

WEM SPRUDELT DER BECHER DES LEBENS SO REICH?

BEIM KLANGE DER HÖRNER IM GRÜNEN ZU LIEGEN,

DEN HIRSCH ZU VERFOLGEN DURCH DICKICHT UND TEICH,

IST FÜRSTLICHE FREUDE, IST MÄNNLICH VERLANGEN

ERSTARKET DIE GLIEDER UND WÜRZET DAS MAHL – “

            (The PRINCE holds both his hands up to THEKLA. She reaches down for them.)

THE PRINCE

 You’re joy for a prince, a real man’s desire.

THE QUARTET

“WENN WÄLDER UND FELDER UNS HALLEND UMFANGEN

TÖRT FREIER UND FREUD’GER DER VOLLE POKAL.”

THEKLA

The ladder. Quick, bring the ladder.

(The PRINCE brings the ladder.)

THE QUARTET

“YOHOHOHO, TRALALALA – “

THEKLA

Look out, I’m coming down.

            (She quickly descends the ladder. The PRINCE catches and embraces her. The QUARTET keeps singing.)

THE QUARTET

“YOHOHOHO, TRALALALA” etc.

THEKLA

Get rid of the ladder.

(The PRINCE drags it away.)

— Where shall we go? Over there. If anyone comes by, we’re safe.

(He embraces her.)

THE PRINCE

You are my belovèd, you’re perfect. Your dress, your blouse – Pretty as a picture.

THEKLA

And the canvas it’s on?

THE PRINCE

Your eyes …

THEKLA

And hair …

THE PRINCE

And mouth … (He kisses her.) Answer that.

THEKLA

You are so proud, so noble.

THE PRINCE

Hardly proud.

(He starts to kneel before her. THEKLA stops him.)

THEKLA

Don’t do that.

(They sink to the ground together.)

THE PRINCE

Oh, Mädchen

THEKLA

            (kissing him)

Liebster

THE PRINCE

Who am I?

THEKLA

Henry the Eighth.

THE PRINCE

What? I’m not the first?

THEKLA

First and only.

(They hide behind the carriage. HICKETIER, SCHIPPEL, KREY and WOLKE come out the front door.)

WOLKE

No doubt about it: Phenomenal! Krey, what’s your opinion?

KREY

Gut.

WOLKE

The vocal line, the timbre. Hicketier, you seem deeply moved.

HICKETIER

I never expected this. There can be no doubt of the outcome now; the competition is ours.

WOLKE

How his voice melds with ours! We never knew such harmony with Naumann.

            (to SCHIPPEL:)

As the nightingale said to the Emperor of China, “I saw tears in your eyes.”

SCHIPPEL

That’s true. I did see one.

(He takes WOLKE by the lapels.)

WOLKE

I don’t deny it. Your E made me misty.

HICKETIER

The male voice, in its higher register, is one of God’s greatest miracles. Nothing touches my heart more.

WOLKE

More tender than a maiden’s touch.

            (to KREY:)

You needn’t be ashamed of your emotions.

KREY

Don’t overdo it.

HICKETIER

Let us retire while the memory is still warm. Gute Nacht.

(HICKETIER turns towards his house.)

KREY

Gute Nacht.

            (KREY and WOLKE walk towards the gate. SCHIPPEL follows them, then turns back towards HICKETIER.)

SCHIPPEL

Hallo!

HICKETIER

Yes?

SCHIPPEL

            (hesitating)

Um …

WOLKE

What is it?

SCHIPPEL

Nothing, really.

WOLKE

Come on.

            (He draws SCHIPPEL toward the fence.)

With a tenor like this, Krey, even your operetta could get a performance.

KREY

            (to SCHIPPEL)

He’s lying through his teeth. I’ve yet to write a single note.

WOLKE

            (to SCHIPPEL)

He never takes advantage of an opportunity. You’ll see what I mean soon enough. What did you want with Hicketier?

SCHIPPEL

            (giving him a look)

A momentary thought; gone now. Ha ha!

            (SCHIPPEL, KREY, and WOLKE exit. HICKETIER stands in his yard and looks up at Thekla’s window.)

HICKETIER

No “Good night.” She didn’t even come out. It will be like that for days, for weeks. I was too quick with that letter, too vehement. A thank you from the Prince for helping him yesterday. She surely heard us singing. She must be in a state; all confused. In her little head, in her heart, love and defiance in mortal struggle. — Child? Are you asleep, my child? — I can’t explain it. I was terrified. Suffocating. But now, if I force myself into the turmoil of her soul, I will spoil everything. Lieber Gott! If I could only be near her, to comfort her.

            (He sings:)

“Hören, hören, was sie will.” What beautiful sounds from that cockroach! Not cracked or wobbly the way the rabble sing, but rather the music of the spheres. – Ah! Little sister! May all good angels bless you! Your big brother, his heart racked with fear, wanted only to understand. Forgive me. Sweet dreams. Gute Nacht.

            (He blows a kiss toward her window and enters the house. The PRINCE appears from behind the carriage.)

THE PRINCE

They’re all gone. Madame, will you not step from the shadows of our humble abode and illuminate the surroundings with your presence?

THEKLA

            (off)

Who cares about surroundings? May this night never end!

            (The PRINCE disappears again. SCHIPPEL appears at the fence.)

SCHIPPEL

Look how this house squats on the earth. We pay in blood for every square inch we inhabit; here, an empty carriage has an acre to itself. (Brandishing his fist:) I hate you, all of you, you bourgeois slime. You fill your guts with sugary crap, you shit it out, then gorge again. You infect your brats with this rot, until beneath their hard, smooth skin, they’ve also learned to screw the world. Meanwhile, with us, one measly litter and we’re exhausted. Even our grandchildren will be too anemic to kill you off.

(He enters the yard.)

I look like a scarecrow in these rags. Her, the bourgeois bitch, those rolling hips could split her seams.

            (Again he copies THEKLA’s walk. Then he strokes the wall of the house.)

No wind’ll blow through here. This wall’s a meter thick. And inside, bloated portraits of your father and your grandfather, born 1810, died in ’86. I don’t even know who my father is, let alone my grandfather. You got away this time, you old bugger. Did I have plans for you! I’d have played my last card to get my hooks into you. Now I’m itching to breathe in your face again. I’m down here just pining for you, you smug, hidebound jackass. Even your farts are self-righteous. But I love you, your class, your entire race. My little heart is pounding, my pulse is racing. I won’t sleep a wink.

            (He sees the ladder.)

A ladder! I’ll risk it. To the dispossessed, Herr Baron, you’re more appealing than a woman.

            (He places the ladder against THEKLA’s window, climbs up and looks in.)

Underwear on a chair? A small room? This can’t be his.

            (Quickly, he climbs down the ladder, shifts it to another window, climbs up again, and looks in.)

There he is! The universe unfolds. Look at him. He puts his jacket on a hanger. He smooths it out. There must be order in the universe. And what does Schippel see? He buttons six solid buttons. Look, grey stockings with garters!

(HICKETIER opens the window.)

HICKETIER

Are you out of your mind?

SCHIPPEL

Drunk with song! Still excited. Don’t be scared, Herr Middleclass, a little craziness won’t hurt you.

HICKETIER

You’re ruining the good impression you made. Go home.

SCHIPPEL

You’re such a donkey. You never understand my intentions. I wanted, ha ha ha, I wanted to bask in my good fortune.

HICKETIER

It’s obvious you’re insane. In the middle of the night, right next to my sister’s window. She’s asleep. Go away! Do you hear me? Go!

            (He slams the window shut. SCHIPPEL climbs down the ladder and stands in the yard.)

SCHIPPEL

So bossy! If his sister is sleeping up there, pink and plump in her white finery … You swine! You’re trying to trick me.

            (He races up the ladder again and bangs on HICKETIER’s window.)

Get up, you lazy dog! The girl in that room – that’s right. I want her. Wake her up.

            (The PRINCE, with THEKLA behind him, sidles into sight. They remain invisible to those on stage. HICKETIER rushes out the front door and hisses at SCHIPPEL.)

HICKETIER

What did you say, you filthy — ?

SCHIPPEL

Your sister! Now! Or you’ll need a crowbar to pry one note out of me!

            (HICKETIER runs to the carriage and grabs a whip from the driver’s seat. As he approaches, he sees THE PRINCE and THEKLA and stops in his tracks. He gasps. THE PRINCE and THEKLA run back out of sight. HICKETIER pulls himself together and totters toward SCHIPPEL.)

HICKETIER

Did you bark, you cur? Filthy proletarian scum.

            (SCHIPPEL jumps off the ladder and tears the whip from HICKETIER’s hand, then pushes him hard against the wall and shouts in his face.)

SCHIPPEL

Ja, stinking proletarian scum! I’m going to marry your sister, the stuck-up bitch! I’m waving a red flag in your face. Yeah, you can drop dead, you dinosaur. Bet that makes your head spin! We’re not done yet.

            (SCHIPPEL runs out the gate. HICKETIER stands paralyzed. THE PRINCE escorts THEKLA to her front door, then turns to HICKETIER.)

THE PRINCE

Your sister Thekla is quite overcome … Gute Nacht, Herr Hicketier.

(He quickly turns to go. Lights down)

END OF ACT ONE

ACT TWO

Scene 1

            (The same. Early the next morning. HICKETIER is sitting at a table, asleep. JENNY appears at the front door.)

JENNY

I don’t have the heart to wake him.

(WOLKE appears outside the fence.)

JENNY

            (pointing to HICKETIER)

Ssssh!

WOLKE

Good grief.

JENNY

He sat there all night. When I woke up this morning, he wasn’t in bed.

WOLKE

Worries. Schippel!

JENNY

He puts on a brave face, but in his heart, he’s suffering.

WOLKE

With the Festival so close, he must get a grip on himself. The Wolkes too have a name to protect. Have you spoken to him about our plan?

JENNY

What plan?

WOLKE

Krey. I would like to celebrate the Festival and the engagement at the same time.

JENNY

You’re on the wrong track. If Krey even suspects that you’re plotting behind his back, he could get nasty.

WOLKE

Right. He’s a lynx, a fox, a ferret. However, my dear, in love there are complexities that you can’t even imagine. Imagine, for example, that a — how to put it? — a whirling dervish has a dream about a wild bacchanal in which the woman he loves is tricked into a compromising situation.

JENNY

How awful.

WOLKE

The dervish imagines that, thanks to his great courage, he can save his woman.

But eventually, the dervish’s own inner demons possess him. He forgets that his dream was just a dream. He starts to believe that his true love has in fact been compromised in real life! The result? Disaster. Wreckage. Mother wails, Father sits in sackcloth and ashes. The cause? An orgy of unbridled imagination. Now, I don’t suggest that Krey is like that benighted dervish. Far from it. He is, however, what nature knows as a “phenomenon,” namely: His superior intellect.

(HICKETIER starts to snore.)

Bravo!

JENNY

You think Krey is that clever?

WOLKE

Jenny, he’s a universal genius. What a mind! Just ask him about the Greeks, or the Jews. Mention technology, physics, algebra, then observe the pupils of his eyes, the way they flicker and narrow to slits. You can watch the whole mysterious process.

JENNY

Really?

WOLKE

In his mind, Thekla is such a paragon of virtue, such a Platonic ideal, that he doesn’t dare declare himself.

JENNY

On the whole, he’s right. She is a Hicketier, and what’s more, she’s an angel.

WOLKE

Delectable, beyond compare. Agreed. Now, hear my battle plan: I besieged Krey with speeches, her picture, samples of her handwriting; filled his world with her spirit, her scent. I – how to put it? — plagued his life with her. Finally, last night, when the colossus had been brought almost to his knees, I blurted out that in a state of wild desire, she had carved his initials, intertwined with hers, on the big elm tree over there.

JENNY

Wolke!

WOLKE

I did the carving myself between five and six this morning. Take a look.

(He shows her.)

JENNY

So artistic.

WOLKE

What’ll you wager that Krey will show up before he goes to work, just to see for himself?

JENNY

Here he comes!

WOLKE

Hide!

(WOLKE pulls JENNY behind the carriage. KREY enters, looks around carefully, then runs to the tree.)

KREY

It’s true. Horrors. I’m done for. Kaput.

            (Weeping, he exits. WOLKE and JENNY re-enter.)

WOLKE

In tears? That settles that. Yes, dear friend, I wanted to make you happy.

            (He follows KREY off. JENNY sits down next to HICKETIER.)

JENNY

My darling!

HICKETIER

            (waking slowly)

Hm?

JENNY

It’s after eight.

HICKETIER

Thekla!

JENNY

Did you sleep here all night?

HICKETIER

I didn’t sleep a wink.

JENNY

Come now, forget your troubles. Once you’ve won the crown, you can get rid of Schippel.

HICKETIER

I had this terrible dream … Tell me your thoughts. Tell me your deepest thoughts.

JENNY

I don’t have any. I’ll get your coffee.

HICKETIER

Thekla —

JENNY

Should get married.

HICKETIER

God knows!

JENNY

She’s the right age. But knowing her, she’ll want something special.

HICKETIER

Not a word to anyone, not even to her: Schippel.

JENNY

Tilmann!

HICKETIER

We’ve had our heads in the sand. And now it’s gone too far. If I refuse, there’ll be a catastrophe.

JENNY

Thekla Hicketier — Schippel?  Over my dead body!

HICKETIER

No, I have a plan. There’s a certain officer I know, a bachelor. He has no money. I’m sure he could be persuaded to adopt Schippel, give him a pedigree. Do you get the picture? No questions! Not a word until the matter is settled.

JENNY

Here I was, blaming myself … so all along, Thekla’s been hiding something.

HICKETIER

She has.

JENNY

Perhaps the Prince could do something about Schippel …

            (HICKETIER jumps up.)

HICKETIER

No crumbs from the mighty! No begging, no whining, no embarrassing charity. I have a firm hand. I’ll take care of this.

JENNY

God willing.

            (She exits to the house.  THEKLA opens the shutters of her window. She is not fully dressed. Her arms reach toward the sun. We see the golden bracelet on her upper arm. Below, HICKETIER moves toward her silently. She sees him, takes off the bracelet and tosses it to her brother. He catches it and tosses it right back to her.)

HICKETIER

Forget the melodrama. We’re past that. I have news for you and I want an answer. Last night, Herr Schippel asked for your hand. I’ve considered it, given it great thought, and I have agreed. It’s the only practical solution.

THEKLA

            (aghast)

Brother — !

HICKETIER

No ifs, ands, or buts. Today, this morning, and for the rest of your life.

THEKLA

My fate —

HICKETIER

Is to be a middle class woman. No more. No less.

THEKLA

I … oh … my heart …

(She buries her face in her hands.)

HICKETIER

            (sharply)

The dream is over. Open your eyes. You’re a Hicketier: Show some pride. Pride! Or be a laughingstock.

THEKLA

I’m coming down.

            (She jumps out the window and lands in HICKETIER’s arms.)

Whatever you say. I know you only want what’s best for me.

HICKETIER

Within the hour, you’ll be across those mountains, at your aunt’s house. You will stay there until I’m certain that honor and harmony have been restored. You can cry your eyes out, roll on the floor, weep and wail, but keep it to yourself. The only thing the world cares about is a show of strength.

            (He puts his arm around her shoulders and walks a few steps with her.)

From this day forth, whether you’re a wife, mother, or grandmother, always remind yourself that your glorious sacrifice has not been in vain. In future, when I come to visit, your lovely smile, which even now is breaking through your tears, will remind us who we are, from whence we come, and whither we are going. God bless you, child.

(THEKLA points offstage; SCHIPPEL enters.)

SCHIPPEL

Guten Morgen, everybody!

THEKLA

Guten Morgen, Herr Schippel.

(She leaves.)

HICKETIER

You come just in time.

SCHIPPEL

I come because I’m eaten up by anxiety. Since last night, I’ve been hovering around your house.

HICKETIER

Like a hawk circling its prey.

SCHIPPEL

I crawled over the hill as far as the stream. I couldn’t take my eyes off that window.

            (He points to THEKLA’s room.)

The light didn’t go out all night. Imagine my feelings.

HICKETIER

Which ones?

SCHIPPEL

You just said it.

HICKETIER

The hawk?

SCHIPPEL

When I was a child, I used to play in the street with the other children. Once, a little girl spat in my face: Thekla Hicketier.

HICKETIER

Ah!

SCHIPPEL

That moment ignited twenty years of hate in me. This morning, by the stream, I sang louder than the roaring waters in a voice I never knew I had. It will be at your service for the singing contest, because I know you’ll be giving me that little girl. Half the pleasure of my revenge will be in not telling you the dreams I’ve dreamt about what I’m going to do to your sister when I get my claws into her.

HICKETIER

Some bridegroom. You’re insane. But since the girl has agreed — she’s yours.

SCHIPPEL

I knew it the minute I saw you together.

HICKETIER

You’re always so frank.

SCHIPPEL

And every time we meet, you’ll be ashamed of our connection.

HICKETIER

Indeed.

SCHIPPEL

Don’t fret. My philosophy is simple and sound. But knowing that I’ve got you in my clutches, because of how badly you want that crown – I can make you dance like a puppet.

HICKETIER

Who do you think you are, God?

SCHIPPEL

We need that once in a while.

HICKETIER

For now, the wind’s in your favor.

SCHIPPEL

It sure is. And I have a vivid imagination.

HICKETIER

Which you’ll inflict on Thekla.

SCHIPPEL

On your sister, brother-in-law.

HICKETIER

Do you think that scares me?

SCHIPPEL

I can see the signs.

HICKETIER

You’re getting too close again. Soon you’ll be poking my belly. Ha ha ha.

SCHIPPEL

My dear little friend, I don’t need to do that any more.

HICKETIER

You’ll punish Thekla with your third-rate fantasies. Just because she spat on you once —

SCHIPPEL

The time is coming when, within my own four walls, we’ll stand face to face as husband and wife.

HICKETIER

            (laughing out loud)

So?

SCHIPPEL

My vengeance awakes. Words come spewing out of my mouth!

HICKETIER

So?

SCHIPPEL

I’m starting to —

HICKETIER

Does that make you proud, to be an ersatz Hicketier?

SCHIPPEL

I used to choose my words carefully. Me, a nobody, who fell into this world by accident, grew up in the gutter, I want this innocent bourgeois maiden and I want her now. Let me get my hands on her.

(He grabs HICKETIER.)

HICKETIER

So?

SCHIPPEL

You old goat, I bet this is breaking your heart.

            (HICKETIER laughs.)

HICKETIER

No, the joke’s on you, you ragpicker. You think you’ve picked up a jewel, but your jewel has lost its luster.

            (SCHIPPEL is taken aback.)

Lost. She was a thousand times too good for you, and now, one of your betters has plucked the flower. If you know what I mean.

SCHIPPEL

Thekla — ?

HICKETIER

She’s all yours.

(A long pause. SCHIPPEL turns away.)

It’s my duty to enlighten the newest member of our family. We can discuss the size of her dowry in my office.

            (He gestures toward the house.)

If you please. I think I’ve found a way to explain your mysterious birth. There’s a certain officer who has the misfortune of being your long-lost father.

SCHIPPEL

            (turning back)

I think I understand.

HICKETIER

Bravo.

SCHIPPEL

I don’t need the details.

HICKETIER

Bravo encore. Both you and your father-to-be will be well compensated.

SCHIPPEL

I’m sure we would. Unfortunately, the deep-rooted ideal of manly honor that I’m learning how to feel won’t allow me to accept this marriage proposal.

HICKETIER

Was?

SCHIPPEL

Nope. You can keep her and your money. My decision’s final.

HICKETIER

            (pushing him)

Fort, fort! Get out!

SCHIPPEL

            (stepping back)

I knew in my heart that we could never be related.

            (HICKETIER comes toward him. SCHIPPEL stops him with a strong gesture.)

Halt! Control yourself. Count your blessings.

(KREY and WOLKE enter.)

WOLKE

            (to SCHIPPEL)

I see you’re not wearing a scarf. I worry about your voice.

KREY

Cough drops.

SCHIPPEL

No worries, meine Herren. I know the weight of my responsibilities as a gentleman. At the Festival, I shall sing like a god! Guten Morgen.

(Exit SCHIPPEL. HICKETIER heads back to the house.)

WOLKE

            (to HICKETIER)

Listen –

HICKETIER

Not now.

            (HICKETIER exits. KREY grabs WOLKE and drags him to the elm tree.)

KREY

Swear!

WOLKE

I could raise two fingers, and that would be the end of it. But first, I want to tell you more about her, about what I’ve observed. You know camomile, larkspur, dandelions? Well, she picked every flower she could find, just to ask, “He loves me. He loves me not. He loves me.”

KREY

Swear that she carved those letters. Swear!

WOLKE

And marjoram. I mean —

(KREY squeezes him so hard that WOLKE squirms.)

Venus flytrap.

KREY

Swear!

(He kicks WOLKE’s behind.)

WOLKE

            (running away)

And every time, the last petal said, “He loves me …”

            (KREY grabs WOLKE again and shakes him, shouting, quite beside himself.)

KREY

Your oath! Your oath!

WOLKE

            (to himself)

What difference does it make?

            (He raises his hand. Aloud:)

I swear!

            (KREY falls onto a chair and covers his face with his hands.)

You fool, with your kind heart caught in the grip of habit. Look at me, your friend Wolke, look at me; I love you with all my heart, and I can’t bear to see you torturing yourself any longer. Deep down inside, I know that all you want is peace and quiet.

(Overcome with emotion, WOLKE kneels before KREY.)

Krey? Go and get your Thekla.

            (KREY lifts WOLKE up and embraces him.)

KREY

I don’t know how all of this fits together. I don’t know why; up till now my life was so comfortable. But from the heartfelt emotion in your voice, I can tell that it must be so. Say no more.

            (They shake hands.)

Wait here. I shall return as a bridegroom.

(He enters the house.)

WOLKE

Now there’s a man, a wonder, touched by God. How did a poor creature like me ever … how to put it?

            (Lights down.)

ACT TWO

Scene 2

            (Two weeks later. Daybreak. A meadow. THE PRINCE and THEKLA enter from opposite sides, stretching their hands out to each other.)

THE PRINCE

Our final encounter. Allow me to say that you will always hold a heavenly place in my heart.

THEKLA

I am engaged to your Highness’s bureaucrat, Heinrich Krey.

THE PRINCE

Yes. Your brother announced it yesterday, after his great triumph at the Songfest. Thekla has been kept well out of my reach by all kinds of tricks and machinations, insults to my manly honor. I fully expected opposition; but all I got was smiles and phony acquiescence. Meanwhile, you’d vanished, only to reappear after the deed was done. Who was behind this? Who dared?

THEKLA

It happened. It had to happen. Even if it were to cost us both our lives – but we’re still here.

(THE PRINCE gestures.)

THE PRINCE

Thekla!

THEKLA

Surely your Highness does not intend to seduce me again. Not that I would mind; without you, God knows, I’m just ordinary. But as things stand now, I must be the very soul of propriety.

            (THE PRINCE tries to embrace her.)

THEKLA

The soul of propriety.

THE PRINCE

Mon amour!

(THEKLA struggles and stamps her feet angrily.)

THEKLA

Propriety!

(THE PRINCE steps back. Immediately, THEKLA smiles at him.)

I’ve been thinking about the Fate that brought us together, and about you. You are a delightful bit of good luck for any woman. Unforgettable. Slender, warm, hungry as a child, you convinced me that I was the first one you’d ever even touched, so naturally I responded. With the arrogance of a hero, you took possession of the abundance you were given, yet you have no idea how precious it is. You’ll only understand this after many years and many more women. God willing, your image of me will shine so brightly that you will always think of me as being worthy of you.

            (With tears in her eyes, she takes the gold bracelet from her arm and gives it to THE PRINCE.)

Remember Thekla Hicketier!

(THE PRINCE bows deeply over her hand.)

Will you escort Heinrich Krey’s bride for one last walk across the meadow?

THE PRINCE

Do you know Herr Krey well?

THEKLA

Well enough. He has demonstrated a noble character.

(They start walking.)

THE PRINCE

Promise me that you will never think of me as a noble character, but rather as a bit of good luck for women.

THEKLA

Yes, with all my heart.

            (They leave. Lights down.) 

 

ACT TWO

Scene 3

            (A street. Enter SCHIPPEL from one direction, KREY and WOLKE from another.)

SCHIPPEL

Greetings, gents. Guten Morgen. Councillor Wolke. Herr Krey. How’s our happy bridegroom this fine morning?

(KREY and WOLKE nod brusquely and keep going.)

What? Not a word?

(He runs around to confront them.)

Meine Herren, don’t walk away from me. I’m talking to you! Yesterday I won you clowns the prize, today I’m something stuck to the bottom of your shoe?

WOLKE

Let us pass.

KREY

Ignore the creature. Who does he think he is?

SCHIPPEL

I know who I am, and what I am. I know what you are, too. And what you’re going to be.

KREY

Riddles? Pah.

WOLKE

My good man, you’ve done quite well for yourself, now leave it there. Don’t you think that’s best? Let us pass.

SCHIPPEL

Let you pass? How to put it? Nein. Not until you ask politely. Say please, and I will, as Herr Krey would say, take it under advisement.

KREY

Wolke, we’re wasting time. Schippel, stand aside, or I’ll –

SCHIPPEL

Or you’ll what? Save your strength, Krey. You’ll need it for your wedding night.

WOLKE

Monstrous!

KREY

I’m warning you –

SCHIPPEL

You’re warning me? I’m warning you! You’re going to be such a laughingstock.

KREY

What’s that supposed to mean?

(Enter HICKETIER and JENNY. SCHIPPEL doesn’t see them.)

SCHIPPEL

There’s got to be an easier way to get your hands on Hicketier’s money. Can’t you just steal it? Wolke, help him out.

WOLKE

How dare you!

SCHIPPEL

I’m not daring anything. I’m not about to marry damaged goods.

HICKETIER

Schippel, be quiet!

SCHIPPEL

Oh, look who’s here. Guten Tag, mein Herr. Gnädige Frau.

JENNY

Herr Schippel.

SCHIPPEL

See, the lady knows how to be polite. Take a lesson, gentlemen.

KREY

What do you mean, “damaged goods?”

HICKETIER

Schippel – !

SCHIPPEL

Oh, didn’t Hicketier tell you what he told me?

JENNY

What’s this?

HICKETIER

I have no idea what he’s talking about.

SCHIPPEL

Tilmann! Did you forget? That’s not right. — It seems that Fräulein Thekla Hicketier has been – um – compromised.

HICKETIER

You’re a dead man.

KREY, WOLKE, JENNY

            (together)

What does he mean, “compromised?”

SCHIPPEL

I don’t know the details. He does.

HICKETIER

            (to SCHIPPEL)

Schweig doch!

JENNY

Tilmann?

KREY

Hicketier?

WOLKE

There seems to be some mystery here.

SCHIPPEL

Oh, dear, what have I done?

HICKETIER

You have insulted my sister’s good name. I would give you a thrashing, but now that Herr Krey is her fiancé, he will demand satisfaction.

KREY

I will?

WOLKE

You must. For Thekla’s honor.

HICKETIER

The fellow is trying to sabotage the order of things with his innuendoes. Are you going to let him get away with it?

KREY

No! My Thekla is pure.

SCHIPPEL

Fine. It’s no skin off my nose.

JENNY

Shame on you, Schippel!

HICKETIER

Jenny –

JENNY

What’s wrong with you? Slandering an innocent child like that!

SCHIPPEL

Innocent? If you say so.

JENNY

I do say so! – Heinrich Krey, do your duty!

KREY

Jenny, I —

HICKETIER

Krey, if you don’t challenge Schippel, his insinuation will stand uncontradicted. I shall be forced to withdraw my consent to any marriage. Do you understand me?

SCHIPPEL

Auf wiedersehen, the dowry! Money remits a multitude of sins.

KREY

Schippel, I demand satisfaction.

WOLKE

No, no, Heinrich. There’s a proper form to these things. Take off your glove and throw it at him.

HICKETIER

Now just a minute. That’s fine for equals. But between a Krey and a Schippel?

WOLKE

True. Is there even a – how to put it? – a protocol for a situation like this?

HICKETIER

Hmm. Let me think. Nein. Gar nichts. None.

JENNY

Heinrich, take your glove and slap his face.

WOLKE

Ja, ja! Left glove? Right glove?

SCHIPPEL

Goodbye.

(He starts to leave, but HICKETIER grabs him.)

HICKETIER

Not so fast. Krey? What Jenny said.

SCHIPPEL

Help!

(KREY slaps SCHIPPEL with his glove.)

Ow! That hurt!

HICKETIER

Excellent. Now here’s what will happen. Krey, bravo, you’ve just challenged this mongrel to a duel.

KREY

Oh, God. Gott in Himmel!

SCHIPPEL

A duel?

HICKETIER

Schippel, you’ve been challenged by the party you insulted. You get the choice of weapons.

SCHIPPEL

Weapons?

HICKETIER

Jawohl. Swords, knives, pistols. Which do you choose?

KREY & SCHIPPEL

            (together)

Pistols?

HICKETIER

Good choice. Now. Given the lack of rules for such a situation, we must improvise. So: Tomorrow. Dawn. On the parade ground. Twenty paces. I will provide the firearms. Just us, oh, and a doctor. Agreed? Agreed!

(Blackout.)

  

ACT TWO

Scene 4

            (Enter SCHIPPEL, wearing a morning coat and top hat.)

SCHIPPEL

I’m a dead man. After my noble renunciation of that slut, which cost me a fortune, after my heroic efforts at the Songfest, which they only won thanks to me, all I got from those snots was a curt little nod, and now – the icing on the cake – I’ve been invited here this morning to get shot! Some thanks! Yesterday they needed me, today they want to kill me. This coat will be my shroud. Well, gentlemen, you may think you’ve dug my grave, but don’t expect me to jump in. You’re not filling me full of holes. It’d be downright murder to come after a harmless fellow who’s never even held a gun. Of course, they make it all look legitimate. My life’s a disaster. I wanted into that world so badly I’d have cut off my balls to get there. But I’m not letting somebody shoot them off. I’ll be dead. I know it. I dreamed about it. I saw myself blown wide open with my guts hanging out. I had it all in my hands; I lost it. Nothing left but my pathetic life. All I want to do is play the clarinet again, sing, live on tips. No wearing kid gloves day in, day out, turning a blind eye to everything around me. For one glorious moment, I held Hicketier in the palm of my hand. But for what? Like fireworks for a corpse. Thanks for nothing. Mein Gott! What am I doing here on the very spot where they expect me to bite the dust? This is where Krey wants to shoot me. But I’ve got a surprise for him, for all of them. When I go to bed tonight I’ll still be in one piece, I can say whatever the hell I like to whoever I like. I’m flying the coop. Heading for the hills. I’m going to crawl into a hole, the one I came out of.

            (Exit SCHIPPEL. Enter HICKETIER, KREY and WOLKE. They are wearing frock coats.)

WOLKE

Five minutes to seven. We’re the first ones here.  Krey, how are you doing?

HICKETIER

Stop asking your endless questions. He seems fine.

WOLKE

Well, my hair is standing on end. Why did I ever consent to this unholy duel? We could have won Schippel over with diplomacy, gotten guarantees of his future behavior. That man, I’ve no doubt about it, will skewer Krey like a pig on a spit. Besides, I saw our friend here in a dream, with no head.

HICKETIER

You’re the one with no head.

WOLKE

            (to KREY)

Is your heart beating? How’s your pulse? – Where’s the doctor?

            (He feels KREY’s pulse.)

When we were having our schnapps, I saw your tongue. It’s all coated. How will this end?

KREY

Everything used to be so perfect.

HICKETIER

This is a noble encounter, don’t besmirch it with your cowardice.

WOLKE

I don’t give a damn about appearances when my dearest friend’s life is at stake.

KREY

            (pitifully)

Shut up, Wolke.

WOLKE

A bridegroom, loving and beloved, in the springtime of his life, condemned to a gruesome death. We are staring murder in the face, and you, Hicketier, are the guilty party!

HICKETER

Ridiculous.

WOLKE

Didn’t you remind Krey in no uncertain terms of the injury done to his fiancée’s honor, an injury for which he would never have demanded satisfaction on his own account from one so far beneath him? Did you not make this duel a condition of his receiving Thekla’s hand, so that he was forced to challenge Schippel? You did! And why did you do that?

(to KREY, who is on the verge of collapse)

Buck up, Krey!

            (to HICKETIER)

Because, when all is said and done, you admire that upstart! Hicketier, for a long time, I have suspected something very dark in your soul – don’t interrupt me! Your pretend superiority is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Schippel was sent by Heaven to unmask you.

HICKETIER

Oh, really? The man has nothing, yet he refused one hundred thousand marks, not to mention a beautiful girl. And then he won the laurel crown for us with his heavenly voice. Now, unfamiliar with any such test, yet with manly fortitude, he faces the business end of a pistol. Before that kind of courage, the very least Krey can do is not blink.

WOLKE

People like us, whose position in the world is well understood, don’t need to compete with the likes of Schippel.

KREY

            (pitifully)

Wolke, shut up.

HICKETIER

I demand the right, whenever I want, to test the human qualities of the people around me. At this moment of truth, don’t you fuss and dither, or you’ll sabotage Krey.

WOLKE

Seven o’clock. Not a soul in sight.

KREY

Maybe he’s forgotten.

HICKETIER

Nonsense!

WOLKE

Seven oh two.

KREY

I was so comfy before. Do you see what you’ve done to me?

WOLKE

Exactly how long do we have to wait?

KREY

I feel faint.

HICKETIER

Could they have gone to the wrong place?

WOLKE

Krey is about to have a nervous breakdown.

HICKETIER

            (to KREY)

Tell Wolke, “Don’t be silly.”

WOLKE

Seven oh eight. Are we obliged to wait all day?

HICKETIER

They’ve gone to the wrong place. We’ll go find them. Come along.

(Exit HICKETIER.)

WOLKE

Grant us a hurricane or an earthquake!

KREY

My nerves are shot. I used to be so comfy.

            (WOLKE takes KREY by the arm and quickly drags him off. Beat. The DOCTOR enters, holding SCHIPPEL by the arm. He drags him downstage.)

DOCTOR

Don’t be such a baby. Pull yourself together.

SCHIPPEL

Let me out of here. If you hadn’t caught me, I’d be long gone by now. You want to help the poor? Then let me go, I beg you!

DOCTOR

Impossible. Think of the consequences!

SCHIPPEL

I’m too poor for consequences!

DOCTOR

Since the Songfest, in the eyes of the finer folk, you are a distinguished person.

SCHIPPEL

I’m a prole, believe me. Two weeks ago, I was a nobody. Invisible. I can do that again. Disappear into nothing. Not trouble a soul.

DOCTOR

Good God, man, what about your honor?

SCHIPPEL

Dearest doctor, I don’t have any. I swear. Let me go!

DOCTOR

Your enemies will make you a laughingstock.

SCHIPPEL

Let them! That’s it! That’s what I want. That’s what I pray for. I’m just a dog, a miserable wretch, a piece of shit. I admit it.

DOCTOR

A little nervous breakdown, nothing serious.

SCHIPPEL

You’re wrong! My knees are like jelly. I’m gonna die, Doctor, I’m gonna die. Let go! I’ll drop dead right at your feet!

            (HICKETIER, KREY and WOLKE return.)

HICKETIER

Ah, here they are.

(EVERYBODY bows.)

The places have been marked out. Twenty paces apart. Positions, please, everyone.

            (All go to their places. KREY and SCHIPPEL stand diagonally opposite each other; SCHIPPEL is down right and KREY is up left. The DOCTOR is near SCHIPPEL. HICKETIER is on KREY’s left; WOLKE, on his right. HICKETIER takes two pistols from a box, loads them, and shows them to WOLKE.)

HICKETIER

Two bullets each, two shots each. Both loaded.

            (WOLKE fusses. The DOCTOR has opened his medical bag. KREY can barely stand.)

WOLKE

            (to KREY)

Take a deep breath.

KREY

            (stammers something like)

D … Death.

HICKETIER

            (quietly, to SCHIPPEL)

Deep breath …

SCHIPPEL

            (stammers something like)

I’m dead.

(WOLKE pulls out his handkerchief. HICKETIER takes it.)

HICKETIER

At the count of three … fire! Eins … zwei … drei!

            (He waves the handkerchief like a flag. SCHIPPEL fires without aiming. KREY falls down. EVERYONE except SCHIPPEL runs to KREY and pulls him offstage.)

DOCTOR

            (off)

A scratch on the arm. Insignificant.

WOLKE

            (off)

God be praised!

            (SCHIPPEL, standing with his arm outstretched like a marble statue, fires again! THE DOCTOR rushes back onstage.)

DOCTOR

Are you mad? It’s over. Herr Krey is slightly wounded. You’re fine.

SCHIPPEL

            (mechanically)

Danke.

DOCTOR

Don’t you want to see your opponent and be reconciled?

SCHIPPEL

            (mechanically)

Ja.

            (He lets the DOCTOR lead him offstage. HICKETIER and WOLKE intercept them.)

WOLKE

Thank you so much, you noble, noble man. Wolke will never forget your magnanimous gesture.

(SCHIPPEL and the DOCTOR exit.)

HICKETIER

The man’s bearing was heroic. The same serenity and self-assurance as at the Songfest.

What an honor, to be acquainted with such a marksman.

            (SCHIPPEL returns. HICKETIER goes toward him.)

Filled with poisonous prejudices and deep distaste for your origins, I have until now refused you entry to our society. You have beaten me. It is my duty, so to speak, to tell you how much, in future, I shall be honored by your company.

(HICKETIER offers SCHIPPEL both hands.)

This day will not be forgotten. Your accomplishments will be remembered, and I will ensure personally that the greatest blessings of the middle class shall be heaped upon you. Auf Wiedersehen, my dear Herr Schippel.

            (HICKETIER raises his hat formally to SCHIPPEL and exits. SCHIPPEL, now standing alone in bright sunlight, buries his face in his hands.)

SCHIPPEL

I am so happy! Their greatest blessings, on me – too much.

(Slowly, with rapture.)

Mein lieber Herr Paul Schippel! You are now a full-fledged member of the middle class. And still alive! Glorious!

(He makes a sweeping bow to himself.)

END OF PLAY

Copyright © 2008 by David Copelin and John Van Burek

Revised 2012

All Rights Reserved

One thought on “Citizen Schippel

  1. Pingback: Editor’s Note 5.2 | The Mercurian

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s