Act I Scenes 12-13


Enter a giant in ordinary clothes and a dwarf in uniform.

GIANT:    It’s all right for you, you can make a real contribution to society now. As for me, summarily dismissed by the regimental doctor.

DWARF:    On what grounds?

GIANT:    Too small. According to my old medical records, fifteen years old to be precise. Back then I looked like you.

DWARF:    It surprises me they didn’t hold on to you despite that, the doctor hardly glanced at me and they took me on the spot. Ma was ever so upset.

GIANT:    Ah, mummy’s boy.

DWARF:    I’m happy enough. Noble objectives are what give a man stature. At first I was a bit unsure about whether I was fitted for these great times and whether I was really up to the shoulder-to-shoulder struggle. But people just jeer at me in civvies, when I come back in uniform I’ll be a hero who’s had bullets flying over his head. And when all the others throw themselves to the ground – well, I can keep on standing!

GIANT:    You’re a lucky man!

DWARF:    You’ll have to console yourself with the fact that it’s out of your hands. It’s all down to the conscription board.

GIANT:    I slipped through the net.

DWARF:   I caught the doctor’s eye.

GIANT:    Let’s go and chow – I could eat for an army.

DWARF:   Perhaps I could pick at a little something –

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The Baden-Vienna tram[1].

A very burly man, dead drunk, in peacetime he may have been a furniture remover, he has a bushy moustache, he wears check trousers that show the signs of a wine-bingeing session and of forcible ejection from the scene of the crime.  He has a bag next to him from which, every so often, he pulls a bottle. He is caught in a row with a young couple, having bumped into the girl and threatened her companion, he shouts through the whole journey.

DRUNK:    What a handbag[2] – sounding off at me like that – what have you done for your country? Let’s see your papers! Give them here! – Look at me – I’ve got sons at the front, your age – with beards on their faces not bumfluff – doing their bit – for our country – do you know where I come from – I come from Baden – Handbag – you are going to show me your papers – who do you think you – such a – blowing up like that – just because you’ve got your tart with you – what have you done for your country? – Look at me – I’m doing my bit – for the fatherland – anybody can kick up a hoo-ha – what is it you want, eh? Perhaps I offended you? – Handbag – let’s check those papers – look at this – you know what that is – a field postcard from my nephew – for the fatherland – Handbag – his papers need checking here – the handbag – I want those papers in front of my eyes – he’s doing bugger all – for our country – (Quietening down a little, coaxed by a frail looking conductor, he offers his bottle to the passengers and stumbles over them all in turn.) Have a drop, my friend – we’re all Austrians here!

GALICIAN REFUGEE COUPLE[3]:    Oh, my God! (They escape to some other seats, but leave an umbrella behind.)

DRUNK (babbling):    That handbag – our country – let’s see those papers –

CONSUMPTION TAX OFFICER[4] (looking down):    What’s in that bag?

DRUNK (subdued):    You look at that handbag there – it’s our fatherland – you check his papers – (After a little while he is persuaded to open the bag and pay twenty heller duty. Meanwhile the tram has stopped.)

VIENNESE MAN (taking the seat previously vacated by the refugee couple): Everybody’s kept waiting, and all for nothing! There’s always trouble on this stretch! It does my head in! (He leaves the tram with the umbrella. It’s raining. The drunk leaves the tram now likewise and it goes on its way.)

DRUNK (animated again now he’s outside):    For Austria – he’s got to – got to show his papers – what a handbag – bugger all – for the fatherland –

GALICIAN REFUGEE COUPLE (breathing a sigh of relief as they return to their seats):    Where’s our umbrella? Where is it? Conductor, our umbrella?(Change.)

[1] Badener Bahn, the conspicuous blue and white tram to Baden has its terminus in Vienna opposite the Opera House. It travels on tram lines through the city and joins the rail network for the rest of the hour long journey to Baden, a spa town which was a popular summer resort for the great and the good.

[2] The word Binkel means ‘bundle’ or ‘package’; it is also an abusive term for an effeminate man, old-fashioned ‘pansy’; Kraus plays on this ambiguity, which won’t work in English; there’s nothing quite  suitable in all the English abuse in this area, but ‘handbag’ lends itself to being a term of the same kind. 

[3] Over one hundred thousand mainly Jewish refugees arrived in Vienna in the early months of the war, escaping the Russian army’s advance into Galicia and Bukowina; their presence provoked unease among the city’s Jewish population and increasing anti-Semitism; the refugee couple faces the perennial problem that wherever there is trouble, though it may not be directed at Jews, Jews need to get away – before it is.

[4] A kind of VAT, mainly on alcohol, especially when consumed in public places.