Hands Around consists of ten short scenes in the form of dialogues between a man and a woman. The central concern of each is conversation before and after sexual intercourse, which is itself not depicted onstage. The playwright’s inspiration may have been William Hogarth’s two 1736 engravings “Before” and “After.”
The first partners are the prostitute and the soldier. Leocadia is so attracted to Franz that she offers herself to him free of charge. Since the swaggering soldier is not willing to accompany her to her room, they perch precariously on the banks of the Danube Canal while making love. Throughout this terse encounter, the brutish man prefers to remain faceless and anonymous.
The second instance of the recurring dialectic of persuasion and reluctance is the encounter between the soldier and the maid. Having met Marie at a dance in the Prater, Vienna’s amusement park and pleasure ground, Franz takes the initiative and has his way with her on the grass. Afterward he agrees to take her home, but not until he has had some more fun dancing with another girl.
In the third scene, the maid is seduced by Alfred, the blasé, feckless young gentleman of the house, in his bedroom. After intercourse, eager to restore (or continue) the master-servant relationship, he orders her to answer the doorbell and rushes off to his favorite café.
The young gentleman is next shown with the young wife. This time Alfred does not improvise a seduction but carefully and aesthetically prepares for a visit from Frau Emma, who arrives heavily veiled at the apartment he has rented for the assignation. After overcoming her scruples, he finds himself impotent, possibly because she is not his inferior but his socioeconomic equal. Alfred attempts to rationalize, intellectualize, and poetize his failure by recounting a Stendhal story in which some cavalry officers were unable to perform with the women they desired the most. One of them wept for joy with his lover for nights on end, presumably because their love was so pure. Frau Emma’s attractiveness and experience finally enable the young gentleman to function after all,...
(The entire section is 886 words.)