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Verwickelte Geschichte

[Image:Moving Theatre logo]Verwickelte Geschichte
A Complicated Story

A Farce with songs in 2 Acts
By Johann Nestroy
Premiere: 22nd June 1850

Funded by

Arts council of England

Austrian Cultural Forum

Kessel, owner of a brewery
Pauline, his ward
Mathilde, his sister-in-law
Fass, the brewery’s delivery man
Agnes, cashier
Franz, a relative of Kessel, his head waiter
Staub, a scholar
Stern, architect
Wachtl (originally played by Nestroy)
Brewery employees

Scene: Kessel’s brewery and tavern, near a large town.

Act 1. Franz wants to marry Pauline, but the wish of her dead father was that she should wed the son of his boyhood friend who is now an architect in Rome. Pauline has never met him, but she has fallen in love with his letters. Her guardian Kessel wants to marry her himself, and hatches a plan to ensure she doesn't marry Franz or the architect. He tells his delivery man Fass (Barrel) to find someone who will impersonate the architect from Rome, someone so boorish and uneducated that Pauline will lose all interest in him. Fass has been inspired by the 1848 revolution to admire everything German as opposed to Austrian, so when Kessel promises him a reward, he asks only that when he is dead, German oaks be planted on his grave.
Mathilde and Pauline discuss the impending arrival of the bridegroom from Rome. If all goes well they will be married in a week. To test the groom's true feelings for her, Pauline asks Mathilde to take her place, while she will play an ordinary servant. Mathilde warns her of the risks involved in such masquerades, but agrees nonetheless.
Franz is distraught at the impending arrival of the architect, and threatens to shoot himself. Agnes snatches the pistol from him in the nick of time and discovers it is only a metal pipe. Pauline is alienated by Franz's display of emotion, but Agnes takes pity on him and comes up with an idea. She tells Franz to find someone unpleasant to impersonate the groom, so that Pauline will call off the wedding.
Meanwhile Fass has been searching for suitable candidates and chosen Wachtl for the bridegroom's role, a man he regards as a philistine utterly without enthusiasm for the German democratic project and therefore suitably contemptible for the job. Wachtl is brought to Kessel to receive his instructions and appropriate attire. He will be paid 100 guilders to impersonate an architect living in Rome called Stern, and shower his "fiancee" with foolish compliments in a way that will make her dislike him. What Kessel doesn't realise is that Wachtl is the real Stern's servant, and that his master is on his way from Rome to meet his bride.
Kessel finds Pauline and Mathilde's planned masquerade entirely suitable for his own purposes. As arranged, with Pauline listening from her hiding place, Mathilde is literally deluged with compliments by Wachtl, who tactlessly asks her about the size of the legacy she can expect. Pauline is suitably put off, and Kessel is delighted with the success of his plan. Wachtl, meanwhile, is worried at having impersonated his master but is also sorely tempted by the bride's legacy. Fass now enters to announce that a man called Stern has arrived from Rome, and, in a whisper, Wachtl hurriedly confesses to Kessel that he is actually Stern's servant. To keep up the charade in front of Pauline, Kessel promises Wachtl a hefty reward if he will continue in the deception. Stern is outraged at his servant's behaviour, but astonished when Kessel claims that he knows Stern well and can personally vouch that this is he. Wachtl joins in, addressing Stern as if he were a drunken servant, and the "imposter" is thrown out of the brewery by Kessel's employees.


Act 2. Mathilde is delighted by the compliments paid her by "Stern" and convinced he has fallen in love with her. She hopes he will not be disappointed when he discovers that she is not an heiress. Pauline, on the other hand, suspects that the second man, whom she didn't see, may be the real bridegroom. She encounters Stern in the garden and he takes her for a servant girl and asks her about his intended bride's feelings for him. The "servant girl" replies that her mistress is puzzled by the discrepancy between his love letters and his prolonged absence in Italy. Pauline is pleased by Stern's reply, that he had to wait until litigation had been resolved in his favour, to avoid meeting his bride in straitened financial circumstances. However, Stern refuses to believe that the woman he saw with Kessel is his intended. On the contrary, he imagines his bride to be someone more like the servant girl he is addressing. Pauline flees inside to avoid giving the game away.
Stern then finds out about the plot and Wachtl's involvement in it from Fass, and decides on a little revenge. - Meanwhile Wachtl is worried, having recognised in Agnes a former girlfriend who might betray him. - By now Franz has engaged Staub (Dust) to impersonate the groom. As Staub waits to meet the bride and her guardian, he meets Wachtl and Mathilde. Staub's speech is studded with incomprehensible Latinisms, but they eventually understand that he likewise claims to be the architect Stern. Wachtl warns him that the real Stern is standing before him, and Kessel and Pauline are equally amazed at the appearance of a third supposed bridegroom. Fass ushers in Stern, now dressed as a servant, and he addresses Wachtl as his master and begs his forgiveness. Wachtl is puzzled but decides to go along with the charade. Stern then asks Wachtl to ask on his behalf for "the servant girl's" hand in marriage, but Pauline confuses matters by giving her hand to Kessel and declaring that she would rather marry her guardian than a servant. When Franz enters and addresses her as Pauline, Wachtl realises he has been tricked. Mathilde confesses the swap with Pauline, and Wachtl rejects her out of hand and proposes instead to Agnes. Stern confirms his identity by producing Pauline's love letters, and Kessel is left empty-handed as Pauline confirms that she loves Stern as much in the flesh as on the page. Fass, however, is thoroughly disillusioned by this happy ending. To him, the marriage of gentleman to lady and servant to servant girl merely consolidates the class system and demonstrates that Austria, unlike Germany, is not yet ready for the spirit of 1848.


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