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Who Cares?

A Farce with songs and dances in 3 Acts
By Johann Nestroy
Premiere: 7th March 1857

Funded by

Arts council of England

Austrian Cultural Forum

Finster, factory owner in Regensburg
Anastasia Mispl, an old maid, his relative in Steyr
Emma Busch
Arthur, Pitzl (originally played by Nestroy), Müller, Meyr, Fischer, all actors in Steyr
Gschlader, coffee shop owner in Steyr
Knapp, theatre bookkeeper
ein Marqueur
Wildner, Agent
Sauerfass, a landlord in Braunau
Sali, his daughter
Georg, a waiter
Maushuber, a man of means, once a landlord in Vienna
Ignaz Maushuber, his son
Frau Zepplmeyr, a burgher’s wife in Braunau
Margarete, a cook
Maz, farmers
Pramper, old burghers in Braunau
Schreiberl, council officials in Braunau
Voll, a judge
Radl, a miller

Scene:The action of Act 1 takes place in the town of Steyr, of Acts 2 and 3 in Braunau.

Act 1. 20 years ago, the factory owner Finster married the bride of a friend who after the death of his first wife wanted a mother for his little daughter Emma. The marriage has been both unhappy and childless, but since his friend died Finster has secretly taken on the responsibility of guardian to Emma. For the last few years she has been living in Steyr with his elderly relative Anastasia. Finster's wife has now died, and he decides to fetch Emma from Steyr and marry her off to his nephew and heir, Arthur, whom he hasn't seen for years.
As it happens, Arthur is an actor in Steyr - [Song, Arthur: "If this isn't art I don't know what is"] -Furthermore, unbeknown to his uncle, he lives next door to Anastasia and Emma, with whom he has fallen in love. He finds Steyr too stuffy for a man of his talents and plans to marry her and move elsewhere. Arthur is frequently in debt, and receives a letter from Georg, a creditor, announcing that he is in Steyr on business and intends to collect the 34 guilders 18 kreuzer that Arthur owes him. To elude this creditor, Arthur decides to elope with his beloved at once. Another letter arrives, from his uncle, criticising his haphazard lifestyle but agreeing to pay off his debts if Arthur will marry the girl of his uncle's choice and help run the factory. If he refuses, Finster will remarry and Arthur will be disinherited. This threat only strengthens Arthur's determination to elope with Emma, believing he can win his uncle round once they are married. But first Arthur must propose to his lady love.
Finster arrives in Steyr and announces his plans for Emma. Anastasia objects that Emma may not love the man he has in mind for her. Finster is displeased by the news that their next door neighbour is "an amorous young fellow". Anastasia assures him that their neighbour is in love with her, not Emma, but Finster is sceptical. He departs, and from next door is heard the loud voice of an actor rehearsing a speech. Arthur, who must be sure of Emma's feelings before proposing to elope, has found a novel way of conveying his intentions in code. Emma understands what he is saying, but unfortunately so does Anastasia. When Emma responds to Arthur's coded love declaration by playing the tune of a well-known love song on her guitar, Anastasia joins in by singing the words; and when Arthur holds a painted heart up to the window with the words "If you love me, say yes", Emma nods but Anastasia is beside herself with excitement. She fetches Arthur in, and is appalled when, instead of confirming his love for her, he asks her permission to marry her ward. Emma spies Finster returning to the house and suggests he should decide the matter, but Arthur recognises his uncle and makes a run for it. A distraught Anastasia tells Finster what has happened and demands that he remove Emma at once. Arthur overhears and thinks Finster intends to marry Emma himself. But Emma refuses to go with Finster and confirms her love for the man next door. Arthur then hears Finster declare that he will "have it out" with this neighbour. He hurriedly asks his actor friend Pitzl to impersonate him at this confrontation and pretend to renounce Emma.
Pitzl now negotiates with Finster. He agrees to renounce Emma in writing in return for 100 guilders. At the same time Arthur sneaks in to explain to Emma what is happening and to tell her to go with her guardian without complaint, but to find some way of delaying him at Linz so that he can then fetch her from Braunau, take her abroad and marry her. Emma agrees. Confronted by Finster with her lover's written renunciation, she pretends to be disappointed and meekly complies with her guardian's wishes.


Act 2. At Sauerfass's inn in Braunau. Sali, the landlord's daughter, is in love with the waiter Georg, but her father has other plans. He wants her to marry young Herr Maushuber, who will inherit his father's large hotel in Vienna. When he learns of the secret understanding between Sali and Georg, he is enraged. Georg tries to persuade Sali to flee with him, but Sali refuses out of consideration for her father, though she promises not to marry Maushuber.
Among the guests at the inn are Arthur and Pitzl, who have run out of money. Arthur is alarmed when the waiter turns out to be his creditor Georg. At first he pretends to be someone else, then gives Georg a choice: either to pawn Arthur's wardrobe or wait until he can get another acting job. Georg learns of Arthur's planned elopement and tells him about his own difficulty with Sali. Arthur promises to help the lovers get married, by impersonating young Maushuber, whom Sauerfass has never actually met. With his arrogant and condescending manner he succeeds in alienating both Sali and her father, particularly when he asks bluntly about the size of Sali's dowry. When Sauerfass replies that she won't have a penny until he is dead, Arthur asks how long he might have to wait till that happy day. Sauerfass would happily throw him out, but Arthur reminds him of a landlord's duty of hospitality and cheerfully requests a room for the night. Sali now tries to plead Georg's case, but her father would happily send both suitors to hell. At this moment the real Ignaz Maushuber enters the inn, and proves to be both charming and polite. Arthur has to think quickly, takes Ignaz aside and explains that it was all a charade designed to test Sali's virtue. Ignaz hasn't a clue what is going on, but Sali and Sauerfass are even more convinced that Arthur is really Maushuber. Ignaz is thrown out of the inn by Pitzl. Meanwhile a carriage has broken its axle nearby and the two passengers take refuge in the inn. They are Finster and Emma. Arthur manages to speak in secret with Emma and they swear their undying love. Arthur just hopes his uncle won't recognise him.


Act 3. Georg promises Arthur a reward of 100 guilders if he can help him and Sali get married. Arthur now takes Georg's place as waiter and serves Finster and Emma. Finster doesn't recognise him. Arthur warns Finster in confidence of a plot he has overheard: an actor is planning to elope with his ward. Finster is alarmed and resolves not to let Emma out of his sight. However, the journey and accident have tired him and he asks Sali to guard Emma while he goes for a nap. Emma now learns from Sali that she and the waiter love each other and intend to elope and marry. Emma is devastated, assuming she is referring to Arthur. Oblivious to this conversation, Arthur returns and is puzzled by his love's sudden coldness towards him. He tries in vain to explain the situation to Emma. Finster overhears this conversation and at last recognises his nephew's voice. Arthur is lured into the next room, where Finster locks him in. Emma says she never wants to see Arthur again, but Finster insists on taking him home with them. Finster now tells an astonished Sauerfass that the waiter is actually his nephew. Enquiring what the young man's prospects might be, Sauerfass is amazed to learn that the young man has no knowledge of the wealth that is due to him but that he will own estates yielding at least 5,000 to 6,000 guilders a year. Sauerfass decides that there is no reason whatsoever why his daughter shouldn't marry the waiter. He asks the astonished Sali if she really loves him, and gladly gives his consent. When he hears that the bridegroom has already acquired the necessary papers, he gives them a document enabling them to marry at once just across the border. On no account are they to return unmarried.
To Arthur's embarrassment Ignaz's father now arrives to finalise the marriage arrangements. A confrontation between Arthur and Ignaz only adds to the confusion, since Sauerfass insists that Arthur is young Maushuber, while old Maushuber retorts that he would hardly fail to recognise his own son. Pitzl cheekily suggests that he must have two sons, and has reasons of his own for refusing to acknowledge one of them. He proposes that Maushuber go to court to deny paternity for Arthur. Old Maushuber is frightened of getting bogged down in litigation, and agrees to Pitzl's request for 50 guilders in return for his silence. Arthur confesses to having impersonated Ignaz for Sali and the waiter's sake, but points the finger of blame at Finster. Sauerfass begins to harangue this busybody, but quickly recalls that he is addressing an extremely wealthy man whose nephew is marrying his daughter. Finster, to whom this relationship is news indeed, vows to have the marriage annulled, while Emma swoons in despair and confusion. Her spirits revive, however, when Sali and Georg return, beaming from ear to ear, and the mix-up is resolved. Sauerfass resigns himself to a waiter as a son-in-law, Ignaz is hugely relieved not to have married into this family, Pitzl admits to standing in for Arthur, and Emma confesses to deceiving her guardian, for she couldn't bear to marry the man of his choice. A thoroughly irritated Finster explains that all these charades were unnecessary, since he wanted her to marry Arthur all along. Arthur can't believe his ears, and his friend Pitzl has the perfect response to Finster's irritated reproaches: "Who cares! To be perfectly frank, if true love wins in the end, who cares about anything else?"


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