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Der alte Mann mit der jungen Frau

[Image:Moving Theatre logo]Der alte Mann mit der jungen Frau
The Old Man and his Young Wife

Folk Drama in four acts
Written 1841, published 1891
A revised version, The Fugitive, was performed in 1890

Funded by

Arts council of England

Austrian Cultural Forum

Count Steinheim
The Countess
Baron Rehfeld, the countess’s nephew
Kern, landowner and owner of a large brickmaker’s in Steinheim
Regine, his wife
Frau Strunk, her mother
Frau Frankner, a farmers’ widow
Anton, office clerk, her son
Theres, his wife
Gabriel, Kern’s servant
Holler, a farmer in Weixeldorf
Anna, his wife
Schippl, clerk in Feldhofen
Baron Wetterhahn
Lord von Nickler
Spitz, official
Schreyer, postmaster
Agathe, Schreyer’s wife
Servants, watchmen, ball guests.

Act 1. After being arrested and the imposition of a long prison sentence during the revolution, for his political views, Anton hid at his mother’s, to avoid being taken into custody. However since his whereabouts we discovered by the authorities, she has had no sign of his whereabouts. [Song: Kern]. Holler tells Kern of how five prisoners have recently escaped. Kern already knows of Mrs. Frankner’s suffering and wishes he could do more to help her – Anton will most likely spend 10 years in prison. Mrs Frankner is however very grateful for the position that Kern has offered her in his household. By chance, Kern and Holler see Anton, who has escaped, knocking on Hartkopf’s door. He is looking for a hiding place, not realising that the house belongs to the watchman. Before Hartkopf opens the door, they manage to grab Anton and drag him into Holler’s barn. Mrs Frankner faints for joy when she sees her son. She has scarcely come round, when Hartkopf bangs on the door, complaining about the nighttime disturbance. They quickly hide Anton in another room. Kern tells the fuming Hartfkopf that it was him who knocked on the door, in order to give the watchman 10 Gulden as thanks for his good service. After extracting another 10 Gulden, Hartkopf politely makes his farewell. For now, Anton is saved. Kern decides to arrange a position for Anton in Steinheim with him, as a forester’s help at an alpine hut. They set off immediately.

Act 2. Kern’s mother-in-law, Mrs. Strunk and Regina, his wife, consider themselves to be far superior to the servants, and treat them accordingly. Regine generously allows her former playmate Theres, Anton’s wife, a certain intimacy on country outings, but in the house she insists on retaining an appropriate distance between mistress and servant. Theres sorrowfully resigns herself to her fate. Although she meant to wait for her husbands’ return, Regine lets herself be persuaded by Rehfeld to go for an excursion to the country with him and her mother. Gabriel is in love with Theres, and is convinced that she loves him in return. Kern secretly slips back into his house, bumping into Gabriel, who gives him a clear indication of Regine’s possible infidelity. Kern seems to be unmoved by this – although he is upset by Regine’s behaviour, he refuses to be worked up by Gabriel. Theres is overjoyed when she hears that she is to see her husband again very soon. Nevertheless, Kern warns her to be careful. The reunion between Theres and Anton is hindered by Regine returning earlier than expected. So as not to arouse any suspicion, Kern pretends he feels unwell. To Gabriel’s surprise, Theres sends him away and attends to her husband herself. Kern cautiously inquires after his young wife’s relationship with Baron Rehfeld. Regine denies the relationship, at first tentatively, and then vehemently. Kern gently but decisively forbids her from having anything more to do with the Baron, and Regine promises to obey him. Meanwhile Gabriel has discovered that Regine lied about the destination of her excursion with Rehfeld, and promptly tells Kern, who once again does not show his feelings, but privately swears to get to the bottom of the matter. He wistfully watches as Anton and Theres happily fall into one anothers’ arms, before Anton makes his way to the alpine hut, his intended hiding place. Gabriel on the other hand observes the scene with horror.


Act 3. Whilst Regine thinks Theres has gone to the city for a few days, she goes to visit Anton and his mother at the alpine hut. Kern has come too, to make Anton a good offer for when his period of incarceration is over. In her happiness, Theres happens to mention Regine’s belief that a change of air would do her husband good, as recommended by the Baron. Gabriel is also making his way to the hut, because he suspects that Theres is there. He meets Holler, who tells him directly, that Theres is married. However Gabriel stands by his opinion that Anton, as a prisoner, is ‘morally dead’ which frees Theres from her obligations – he begs Holler to speak to Theres on his behalf. Holler agrees, but only to rid himself of his disagreeable guest. At a party held by the Count Steinheim, Rehfeld and Regine meet secretly in the garden. Rehfeld has spoken many of his times of his desire to elope with Regine and marry her. As proof of his love he gives her a ring, and demands a love token from Regine in return. Unnoticed, Kern has spied on this meeting, and to the shock of both now steps forward and offers his own ring. Regine begs immediately for forgiveness, but Kern takes no notice of her, and sends her away. At first he thinks of challenging Rehfeld to a duel, but Rehfeld manages to persuade him otherwise. Instead he suggests that Kern may, as the betrayed husband, humiliate him in public as reparation, and Kern agrees. Rather than accusing them both in public, though, Kern makes out that it was all from Rehfeld’s side, calling his wife by all manner of sweet names, such that she faints for shame at her behaviour, and Kern, crying out that she has died, causes all manner of confusion.

Act 4. One year later, Kern celebrates their second wedding anniversary, still continuing to heap false praise on Regine at all times, displaying faked jollility, which she finds extremely discomforting, although she obeys him in everything. On the one hand, Kern sees this as a suitable punishment for Regine’s infidelity. On the other hand, he thereby has spared her – and himself - public humiliation. Eventually Regine can contain her misery no longer, and tells Schreyer, Spitz and Agathe of her secret torture. All three advise her to get a divorce. They decide to help her find a reason. Gabriel is as love in Theres as ever, who has spent the past few months at her Aunt’s in the city. Thinking that he has discovered a secret affair between her and Kern, he tells Spitz, Schreyer, Agathe, Regine and her mother of Kern’s secret trips to the mountains, and of a conversation between Theres and Kern in which they spoke of an attic room. They decide to investigate further. Gabriel has indeed finally realised that Theres does not love him, but cannot understand why not. Meanwhile Theres, unnoticed by the company, has succeeded in bringing her new born child into the house, helped by Holler, Kern and Mrs Frankner. The baby will stay in the attic, so as not to be seen or heard by anyone else in the house. Holler is given the task of telling Anton about his newborn son. It doesn’t take long for Mrs. Strunk, Spitz, Schreyer and Gabriel to discover the baby’s cradle in Mrs. Frankner’s room. They decide to hide the child, in order to force a confession from Kern. So as to give Theres the greatest possible shock, Gabriel lies in place of the baby’s cradle, dressed as a baby. Kern refuses to throw Theres out of the house as the others demand. Spitz therefore announces that court proceedings will have to take place, perplexing Kern. It is only when Theres rushes in in panic asking where her child is, that things come clear. Moreover Spitz says they will only reveal the whereabouts of the child when Theres confesses who the father of her child is. In order not to put Anton in danger, Kern forbids Theres from saying who it is. Gabriel enters, satisfied with his revenge, shows Theres her child in the next room. Kern agrees to a divorce from Regine and is willing to take all the blame on himself, as well as letting Regine have anything she wants, apart from an apology for his behaviour. To everyones’ astonishment, Anton appears, intending to absolve his wife of the charge of infidelity. Theres falls joyfully into his arms. Gabriel is inconsolable, but Spitz is pleased to have found the escaped prisoner again. When he hears that Anton is to be arrested again on the spot, Gabriel immediately begins to have fresh hope. Kern promises Regine that he will let her go unbegrudgingly, and with a generous allowance. He forgives her, but isn’t prepared to take her back, even though she begs him to. Apparently unmoved, he tells her that he is too old, and she is too young. In the end he offers Regine a way out. He will arrange for the divorce immediately and emigrate to Port Adelaide. In one years time, he will send her a certificate announcing his death, whereupon she can enter into a new relationship. In a second document he will send her an invitation to join him in Australia. She can decide freely which option she takes. Unexpectedly, news of an amnesty arrives, although with the proviso that all those who have escaped punishment, emigrate to Australia. Anton and Theres are nevertheless very happy to be travelling overseas with Kern, and look forward happily to the future.


The Plays of Johann Nestroy. A directory of synopses prepared by Julian Forsyth & Zoe Svenson.
Funded by the Austrian Cultural Forum and Arts Council England. © Moving Theatre 2004