Vienna Blood is a two-act play for 5 men and 4 women with several actors playing more than one role. The unit set represents various locations in Vienna in 1913 with a few benches and wooden chairs and tables at different levels, steps, an easel, and many ticking clocks. We hear an eerie carnival version of “Vienna Blood” that is overwhelmed by the sound of a moving train as the lights come up on Wittgenstein and Ruffing on the Orient Express at night. Wittgenstein says he is studying philosophy (“rubbish”) at Cambridge and thinks that what matters is what a philosopher leaves out. He says his father is dying and will leave him an absurd amount of money which he will probably give away and then kill himself. Ruffing tells him he is going to Vienna to visit his wife’s family. Lights black out and we hear birds singing as lights come up on Marcy waiting by the door of a house as Max, a gaunt man of 60, enters. She calls him Papa and asks about her mother. He says nobody wants her here, that she abandoned her relationship with her parents when she chose to live with an older man and have a child by him. Marcy says she is now a married woman with a family and a good life. She says she came back because her mother tried to drown herself. Max tells her she is not welcome in his house or in his life and slams the door behind him.
Lights come up on Grindl, a frail 16-year-old, sitting in her underwear. Marcy speaks to her but Grindl says she should take off her clothes because Schiele wants to paint two women today. Marcy tells Grindl that she was her governess and Grindl says she remembers her because she killed her brother. Marcy says that happened after she left. Schiele enters and tells Marcy that he is a horrible person and tells Grindl to take off her underwear. Marcy objects and Schiele says Grindl can get dressed and go with Marcy if she promises to bring her back the next day to that Schiele can paint them both, fully dressed.
They leave and Elsa, in a sanitorium, asks Ruffing what he is doing with her daughter. He explains how they found each other, but that one night he came home and found a note that she had gone to Vienna. Elsa tells him that if he doesn’t get her daughter away from here the Devil will destroy her. Light fades on them and comes up on Herr K playing chess with himself as Frau K tells him that their daughter is living with the painter Schiele. Frau K tells him that Marcy, who used to take care of their children, is in Vienna. Herr K says no one told him and moves his black night as Frau K leaves. We hear birdsong as lights come up on Max in his garden. Marcy approaches him from the house. She tells him his roses are beautiful but he says they are rotting like everything in Vienna. She says that she always felt safe in his garden. She introduces Grindl Klippstein to her father, saying that she is going to the store to get some food. Grindl asks Max why he has so many clocks and he tells her he is a clockmaker. He kills the snails in his garden because he needs something to do because his wife is locked up in a madhouse. She says she knows what that is like because she can’t stop thinking of her dead brother. He tells her to get the watering can and water the roses. He says his wife loved the ticking clocks and Grindl says her brother liked to sail little boats on the lake and asks what else needs watering. Max says pretty much everything as the light fades on them.
In the studio Marcy tells Schiele that she didn’t bring Grindl because she didn’t want to wake her; she wonders why Schiele paints his naked reflection in the mirror. She says her husband is a police inspector still in mourning for his first wife. He tells her that mirrors are very dangerous objects, a portal to other dimensions, like art. He tells her he has been in prison and that he has to draw constantly or he will go berserk. She says she has to get back to her parents but he tells her to take off her clothes because he wants to paint the person she sees in the mirror, that deep inside that person is somebody desperately trying to claw her way out. She looks in the mirror as the light fades on them and we hear birdsong as Max and Grindl talk in the garden about old paintings she found in the tool shed. He says he didn’t have the courage to be a serious artist. She says making clocks is an art and she likes that his garden is kind of disorderly, that you can’t learn anything from what you control. Ruffing introduces himself as Max’s daughter’s husband. Max saya he doesn’t know where Marcy is but Grindl says she is probably posing naked for Schiele. Max tells Ruffing that he will try to have a conversation with Marcy if Ruffing can tell him how his wife almost drowned in the river. Max goes inside and Grindl offers to take Ruffing to Schiele’s studio.
We see Schiele painting Marcy who is in her underwear. Schiele asks if she has been to see her mother but she says she doesn’t know what to do. He asks if she is afraid she inherited her mother’s madness but she thinks her mother is just disoriented. Ruffing and Grindl enter and Ruffing tells Schiele he needs to speak with his wife. Schiele and Grindl leave. Marcy tells Ruffing that she left because her mother needed her. Ruffing agrees that he may never get over his wife’s death and Marcy asks him to go away for awhile so she can figure out why her mother tried to drown herself. Ruffing says that Max believes someone tried to kill her. He says he has been to see her and that she seemed confused. He suggests they go to see her. Marcy agrees and goes to get dressed, telling Schiele that she will not leave Grindl with him. Ruffing admires Schiele’s paintings but Schiele tells him about being accosted by a painter of very dull landscapes who screamed at him in public as a decadent shit. He warns Ruffing to get his wife out of Vienna while he can.
As Ruffing and Marcy enter the sanitarium, Elsa is talking to herself about dreaming of the dead Emperor Franz Joseph with skeletons dancing around him and Dr. Freud appearing out of a giant sausage to announce that in Sumatra a father must never be left alone with his daughter. Marcy asks Elsa why she tried to drown herself and Elsa says she went to see the Devil but couldn’t kill him. She says she was a governess but couldn’t govern herself. Marcy tells Ruffing that her mother was governess to Herr Klippstein’s younger sisters. Ruffing says that Marcy never told him that she worked for the same family. Ruffing asks Elsa if she went to see Herr Klippstein that night and she says the house was haunted and she was looking at the water and something hit her on the back of the head and then she was drowning. Elsa says it was all because of the baby and Ruffing asks if she means her daughter’s baby. Elsa talks about cheese and rats going down to the river and hitting you in the back of the head as the lights fade on her and come up on Ruffing and Marcy talking with Herr and Frau Klippstein.
Marcy tells Frau K that her daughter, Grindl, is at her father’s house and Marcy’s daughter is in London. Ruffing tells Herr K that Elsa said she came to see him the night she nearly drowned. After stalling, Herr K admits that Elsa did come to visit that night and they had a brief but pleasant chat before she left. He says she seemed upset but Frau K says she can’t talk with her father because he thinks she’s a slut. She says she knows everything because she Is the Goddess of Clockworks and that Marcy is lucky to have found a man who thinks he loves her. She leaves and Herr K says he’d better be with her but says he never knew what to say to Marcy’s mother. Light fades on them as Elsa appears saying she has a message from the Emperor Franz Joseph. Lights come up on a full-size skeleton of the Emperor dressed in full military uniform, an old-fashioned spiked helmet, his chest completely covered with medals. He is operated from behind as a puppet by a person in a Halloween skeleton suit. The Emperor’s skeleton mouth goes up and down as he speaks and he has a high, squeaky, old man’s voice. He babbles about blah, blah, blah, goulash, wiener schnitzel, little white sausage, but says he could really go for a nice, juicy peach. We hear an eerie, carnival sideshow version of “Vienna Blood” as the operator of the Emperor inserts a peach in the Emperor’s mouth. The Emperor chews mechanically, juice running down his chin as the lights fade, closing in gradually on the Emperor’s mouth chewing the peach. Blackout ending Act One.
“Vienna Blood” is playing as lights come up on Ruffing and Wittgenstein talking in a café. Wittgenstein says all music after Brahms is just noise and, as a philosopher, he can’t be certain of anything. Painter enters and tells Wittgenstein that he is shit and must be eliminated so the true Aryan people can take over and fulfill their destiny. Ruffing tells Painter to leave and Wittgenstein remembers that he went to the same school when they were boys. He says his name is Adolf Hitler. Ruffing says he has to meet his wife who has been seeing Dr. Freud. Light fades on them and we see Freud and Marcy in shadows and hear the carnival version of “Vienna Blood,” the laughter of children, and the quacking of ducks. In eerie carnival light the shadow of a giant ferris wheel revolves across the stage. As Marcy relates her dreams and memories, the shadows of the wheel revolve faster and the music speeds up, and characters from her past, Grindl, Herr K, Frau K, and Elsa, tell their versions of the past. The music shifts into the main theme of “Tales From the Vienna Woods,” then fades as light comes up on Freud and Marcy. She asks why she is so unhappy and he tells her she has unresolved issues relating to her parents and her experience with Herr Klippstein. She’s been repressing her anger and transferring it to unacknowledged feelings of hostility toward her husband. She says that her father hates her but when she was a child he taught her to play chess and she always beat Herr Klippstein, although he won in the game of seduction. Freud asks her why she stayed after Herr Klippstein, her employer and a married man, took advantage of her. He suggests it was because she secretly hoped he’s divorce his wife and marry her. She says her husband’s first wife died and he still loves her. Freud asks her why she can’t forgive him for still loving his first wife and she says her father hasn’t forgiven her because she chose Herr Klippstein over him, so why should she forgive anyone else. Freud asks if she can forgive her father and the lights fade on them.
We hear the sound of ticking clocks as light comes up on Elsa, alone, speaking of her nightmares of Emperor Franz Joseph wheeled out like a sewing dummy and skeletons dancing. She says she is terrified of time and dreams that she is drowning. She says she misses her husband, Max, but she must never let him know. We hear birdsong as lights come up on Max and Grindl in the garden. She says he hates her father because he got his daughter pregnant. Frau K enters and Max goes inside to check on the cat. Frau K wants Grindl to come home and says she will give her whatever she wants. Grindl says she wants to have had parents who actually gave a damn about her when she needed it, but it is too late for that. She leaves as light fades on Frau K.
In the sanitarium, Max asks Elsa if she wants to come home and she says there is a whore living with him. He says the girl is a poor lost child that Elsa’s daughter left with him. She says the girl is the Devil’s child and tells Max he was seen coming out of a house on the street of whores. He says that his wife slept with him once before they were married but never again. He asks if he was supposed to die of loneliness and then asks if their daughter has come to see her and Ruffing and Marcy appear upstage. Max says he is going, but Marcy tells him she wants him to stay. He goes and Marcy asks Elsa what is wrong with her and Max. We see and hear her memory of being a governess of Herr K’s little sisters and how he got her pregnant. He was already engaged and she never told him but she seduced an older man who ran a clock repair shop and then pretended she had just discovered she was pregnant. They married and a few years later Herr K came into the shop and she introduced him to Max. The men played chess at least one night a week and Marcy says she had a terrible crush on Herr K when she was a child and was excited when, years later, he asked her to be a governess for his children.
In a scene from the past, Elsa and Marcy argue about her taking the job as governess but Max says it is a good opportunity. In another scene from the past, Marcy tells Elsa that Herr K has been making advances. Elsa tells her she is never going back to Herr K’s again. Max asks how exactly Herr K touches her and joins Elsa in forbidding Marcy to return. She insists that she will go back and Max says he is going to confront Herr K, but Elsa persuades him not to do anything stupid. Max wonders if Herr K has been planning his daughter’s seduction all along. The location shifts to the lake where Herr K tells Marcy that he loves her like a daughter and she tells him that sometimes she feels as if he is the only person in the world who cares about her. He says he is lonely and just wants to hold someone. He asks her if she ever just wants to hold someone. She says yes and he kisses her very tenderly. Elsa saya that he was “so good” at that. Marcy says she was actually happy, but one day Frau K told her that her services were no longer required and she should leave immediately. She guessed that Frau K had found out. She wrote to Herr K but there was never any answer. Almost immediately after she discovered she was pregnant. Max wouldn’t let her in the door, but the nuns took her in and she had the baby at the convent. Mother Superior had a friend in England who needed a governess and Marcy left the baby at the convent and went to England to try to save enough money to bring the baby there but she met her husband. Elsa tells her that she is the child Elsa had with Herr K.
We hear thunder and rain as Herr K asks Elsa what she is doing at his house. She asks him how he could have ruined all their lives. He denies that Marcy is his daughter and says that Elsa has come to blackmail him. He says that next she will try to convince him that he is the father of her daughter’s bastard. Elsa tells Ruffing and Marcy that she was standing in the rain looking at the river when something hit her on the back of the head and then she was in the river. She says she should have stopped Marcy going to work for Herr K, but she was jealous and still loved him. She tells Marcy that she is the mother of her father’s child and then remembers that she smelled a familiar perfume before she was hit on the back of her head. Herr K tells Marcy that he will never believe that he is her father. Frau K asks why they are bothering her husband and Ruffing tells her that it was her perfume that Elsa smelled before she was hit on the head. Herr K tells Frau K to say she didn’t do it and she says if he wasn’t fucking everything in sight none of this would have happened. She says she heard Elsa screaming at Herr K and she ran out after her and hit her on the head with a big rock. When Elsa fell into the water she left her there and went home. Herr K tells Ruffing and Marcy that if they go to the police, Frau K will deny everything.
We hear bird song as Grindl talks with Ruffing and Marcy in the garden, saying that she wanted to say good-bye because she is going to stay with Schiele. She says she told Frau K about seeing Marcy and Herr K in the boat house naked and straining together. She goes into the house and Marcy asks Ruffing why he lied to her about his wife drowning herself. He says it was too painful to try to explain, but he doesn’t believe she drowned herself, that something else happened. He says he and Marcy are both haunted by their past but they can work it out together. She says she has to stay here for now but he should go home and she will come later. He says the train is leaving the station and gives her one of the two tickets he bought. Then he kisses her hair and goes. Max comes from the house and tells her her husband just went out the door. He starts working in the garden and tells her that her mother prefers to stay where she is but misses the clocks. Marcy asks if she can water something but Max says no and continues to work. Marcy beings to water the roses and we hear a sad, eerie version of “Vienna Blood” as skeleton people, two couples and one dancing with the puppet skeleton of the Emperor, waltz around them as light fades and goes out.