The scene shows two private rooms in a restuarant in a Central European capital about the year 1900. In one, a vain but ageing actor, Max, who still believes he can dazzle a pretty young dancer, hopes to make love to the innocent and romantic Elsa. In the other Julia, an actress who has left her youth behind but is still not entirely without allure, is entertaining a young playwright, Florian, who believes- or pretends to believe - that he is being wined and dined merely to talk about his new play. Julia is frankly bored by the earnestness of his literary conversation, and finds great difficulty in keeping her temper sweet as his apparent artlessness parries her every effort to provoke an amorous situation. Meantime Elsa is finding that her too earnestly expressed admiration for Max as a great actor has led her into a situation that is beyond her inexperience to control; and so when Max, wearying of unsuccessful coaxing, shows a less amiable side to his nature and seizes the lady in his arms, she very naturally takes fright and screams. By now such a diversion is by no means unwelcome to Florian, and he hastens to Elsa's rescue. Elsa and Florian recognise each other as childhood friends; natives of the same provincial town; and it is only a matter of moments before one of the two rooms is filled witht the genuine rapture of young love. And in the other? There Max and Julia who have also recognised each other, are joking about their memories of the same provincial town, where they once played together in its chilly draughty theatre and were infatuated with each other.