This is an unusual entry in the theater series, because it’s about a play whose early history is proving hard to pin down: the German-language comedy Einmal Hiebe – Dreimal Liebe. The title translates literally as One Beating – Three Loves, but a more idiomatic version might be Three Suitors and a Spanking.
This short play was one of no fewer than 75 written by the Tyrolean actor and playwright Hans Lellis (1912-99) for performance by his theater company in Vienna, the Österreichische Heimatbühne (or ‘Theater of the Austrian Motherland’). He founded the company after the Second World War, and its populist program of drama proved exceptionally successful: the house was full almost every day. But his scripts weren’t published in the ordinary way and the available versions don’t carry information about their origins, so the only chance of discovering the exact date and cast of the premiere would, it seems, entail making a time-consuming search through Viennese archives. But it seems clear enough that the play belongs to the 1950s: the earliest amateur production I’ve found was in 1959, in Lana, in the region of the Tyrol that is in German-speaking Italy.
Like much of Lellis’s work, the play has been enduringly popular with amateur companies across the German-speaking regions of Alpine central Europe, and from these multifarious ‘amdram’ performances we get the three known stills of the spanking scene, from Vienna in November 1963:
From Lindenberg in 1984:
And from Oggelshausen in 1991:
This last one is, as we’ll see, slightly at variance from the script…
Lellis also included spanking references in at least two of his other plays. In Mit der Liebe Spielt Man Nicht (Don’t Mess About with Love), the hero tells a friend that he’s going to put the girl across his knee and spank her hard when she acts like a wildcat. And in Die Heiratsfalle (The Marriage Trap), the girl is threatened to her face, and it is said that she won’t sit down for a fortnight afterwards. But so far as we know, only Einmal Hiebe features action rather than just talk.
The recipient of the eponymous spanking is Vroni Berghofer, the selfish and spoilt only daughter of a rich farmer, and she gets it from one of the eponymous suitors, Martl Holzer, who got hired as a woodcutter on her father’s farm but whom she tries to fire. The plot has some slight echoes of The Taming of the Shrew. Vroni’s father intends her to marry Xaverl Rottner, but Martl loves Vroni and has arranged for his dimwitted brother Micherl to impersonate Xaverl, who does not actually appear. This probably explains why the play is sometimes performed under the alternative title Einmal Hiebe – Zweimal Liebe – Two Suitors and a Spanking.
The trigger comes when Vroni enters having just overheard Martl make an unflattering remark about her: he told her Aunt Cilli that, as a former soldier, he is used to dealing with a stubborn wild mules. An argument develops in which she becomes high-handed about their relative status – she’s a rich girl and he’s only a servant – so he retorts that a person’s character is more important than their money, and tells her a few home truths about her character. She responds by picking up a broom and threatening to hit him with it after a count of three. He stands his ground, and when she gets to three and attacks, he says that he knows the cure for what’s wrong with her…
And then, as the stage direction puts it: fasst Vroni, entwindet ihr den Besen, legt sie über das Knie und versohlt ihr tüchtig den Hintern (grabs Vroni, wrests the broom from her, puts her over his knee and spanks her bottom hard). Vroni’s next line is, predictably, ‘Help, help, Aunt Cilli, help! Ow, ow, ow, ow!’ Aunt Cilli doesn’t intervene – she rather approves of what is happening to her naughty niece – and then the farm’s foreman and servants enter to watch the spectacle of the spanking. They approve too: they shout ‘Bravo!’ And with that the play ends.
It’s interesting that the spanking is written as a ‘curtain moment’, meaning that the curtain falls on the action while the spanking is still going on. This could be one sign of the playwright’s other profession, as an actor: it’s a piece of practical stagecraft that allows the audience to imagine that it’s a more prolonged spanking than it actually is – bad news for Vroni, but good news for the actress playing her! It also avoids the cumbersome business of getting her off Martl’s lap afterwards, which is always more difficult if the spanking is done properly in the OTK position, with her feet completely off the ground.
This isn’t the only example of a ‘spanking curtain’, and there’s another one also in a play written by an actor. But that’s for next time…
Update: The play was staged at Mitterdorf in Austria towards the end of 2015, with pleasing results: