Schnitzpard’s other play, Das weite Land / Undiscovered Country (1911 / 1979), is longer and more ambitious than the earlier and later Dalliance, and is less punchy, but features a more complex – an aggravatingly complex – lead character. Like Dalliance, the play climaxes with an offstage pistol duel over adultery. What a strange society.
This time the male lead, Friedrich, is older, with a grown son, but still a lady-killer. His wife is long-suffering; his friends suffer in a different way: car accidents, suicide, mountaineering fatalities. For an act or so I wondered if I was reading a play about a dashing serial killer, but no, he is just the lucky one of the bunch. As is typical with Schnitzler if not Stoppard, death is a constant presence.
FRIEDRICH: Oh yes – how is Stanzides?
MAUER: I’m just going to see him, as a matter of fact. He’s very impatient, considering he ought to be grateful he didn’t break his neck.
FRIEDRICH: Not to mention mine. I was thrown thirty feet up the road. But it’s certainly true that the insurance companies will soon be turning down anyone who is acquainted with me. (I, 69-70)
And this is just after the funeral for the suicide.
Friedrich is a perfect hypocrite – he always has a reason, a good one, for whatever he does, no matter how it contradicts something else he does. He is sincere when that is useful, cynical when he needs to be. As I said, aggravating. I suppose the ultimate success of the play depends on whether the production and Schnitzpard are convincing in giving Friedrich a core that makes him more than a specimen. If he earns these words near the end:
FRIEDRICH: Hush! I know what youth is. It’s not an hour since I saw it. It glows, it laughs, it has an insolence in its eye. I know what youth is. And I can’t shoot them all… (V, 147, italics not mine)
Dalliance ends with a sort of sincere and surprised despair, while Friedrich’s despair is more of a long-cultivated philosophy of life.
In the introduction to the volume that contains Dalliance and Undiscovered Country, Tom Stoppard describes the technical side of the adaptation in some detail. Knowing no German, he began with a trot, and went through it word by word with an expert in German. This is “the high water-mark of literal accuracy” after which the playwright and director begin to rampage through the script, filling it with their own ideas and improvements and jokes – I more or less assume that every actual joke is Stoppard’s – until the word “translation” becomes an embarrassment and “adaptation” is quietly substituted. “[A] surprising number of critics turned out to be Schnitzler purists,” Stoppard says (ix-x). Not me, though. I wish there was more jolly Schnitzpard for me to read.