In six penetrating drypoints, Beckmann drew out the conflicting emotions underlying his first play, Ebbi, which he described as a "modern Hamlet." The sharply rendered comedic scenes and absurdist hallucinations express his simultaneous disdain and desire for the comforts of middle-class life.
Bored and restless, Eberhard Kautsch (Ebbi) yearns to become a poet and lead a life unencumbered by his dull family, the daily drudgery of office work, and hemorrhoids. Johanna Löffel, a seductive young painter, spirits him away to a cheap brothel, where his impotence mirrors his inability to overcome conventional morality. There they meet a thug recently released from jail, Jakob Nipsel, whom Beckmann modeled on himself in the illustrations. A wild night of cocaine-induced hallucinations follows. The trio then breaks into the apartment of Ebbi's nouveau-riche friends. Realizing he cannot stomach robbery and murder, Ebbi saves the doorman from Nipsel's violence and returns, a hero, to bourgeois life.
In addition to Ebbi, Beckmann wrote two other plays, neither of which was a theatrical success. Ebbi itself was not performed until 1980. After Beckmann's frequent publisher Reinhard Piper declined to publish the play, Otto Nirenstein agreed to issue a small edition of thirty-three copies through his Johannes-Presse in 1924, and commissioned the illustrations from the artist.
Publication excerpt from Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.