Luigi Pirandello kicked theatre convention out the door with "Six Characters in Search of an Author." Illusion and reality get a bit bent out of shape, as fictional characters stroll about and converse with managers and actors. It's a brilliant piece of existentialist work, and one that had a distinct effect on theatre after that.
It opens with several unnamed theatre people -- the Manager, the Leading Man, the Prompter -- rehearsing a play in an empty theatre. "During this manoeuvre, the Six CHARACTERS enter, and stop by the door at back of stage," Pirandello tells us: a florid Father, timid Mother, equally timid Boy, arrogant Son, sexy Step-Daughter and too-young-to-have-much-personality Child.
"As a matter of fact . . . we have come here in search of an author . . ." the Father tells the manager. The characters have been abandoned by their author, who "no longer wished, or was no longer able" to put them into a story. And now they want the theatre company to provide them with a vehicle that will make them immortal -- and they have to convince the Manager that they are worthy.
Pirandello dispels the unreality of the play with "Oh sir, you know well that life is full of infinite absurdities, which, strangely enough, do not even need to appear plausible, since they are true." While the events of this play seems to be sort of gimmicky, Pirandello uses them with unusual grace (and not a few moments of bizarre comedy).
The characterizations are among the weirdest I've ever seen -- we have an entire family drama going on without a play/novel/film for it. Lovers, illegitimate kids, sibling rivalry and marital fights. Ironically, the Character family overshadows the "real" people on the stage. The Manager is a fun character, though, perpetually impatient and overstressed. "Pretence? Reality? To hell with it all!" the Manager cries near the end of the play.
But Pirandello's odd existentialist play "Six Characters in Search of an Author" is both pretense and reality, and it's a fun and enlightening ride while it lasts.
Luigi Pirandello's 1921 masterpiece was a pioneering piece of post-modernist theatre (which Webster's dictionary defines as, among other things, "typically characterized by ... ironic self-reference and absurdity"). It is beloved of drama schools, but as a piece of entertainment it's getting a bit dated now. This new (2007) version, by Ben Power and Rupert Goold (who directed the Stalinist Macbeth shown on BBC last year) brings the play right up to date, including topical issues that Pirandello never dreamt of.
In this version, the play rehearsal of the original is replaced by a team of film-makers creating a documentary about assisted suicide. From a staging point of view, this means that screens are required on stage to display pre-recorded content. For an amateur drama society, that makes it very challenging in terms of staging, not to mention the difficult content (when I directed it last month, we had half a dozen people walk out and one serious letter of complaint, while others said it was the best thing they had ever seen. Alan Ayckbourn it isn't).
I can't imagine an amateur society performing this play in its entirety without changes. My version omitted the suicide of the boy (try persuading a parent to let their 10-year old commit suicide on stage using a hypodermic needle), while the sex scene between the Father and the Stepdaughter is a very difficult thing to stage tastefully. The discussion between the Theatre-Makers and the Exec also has to be made specific to your actual production.
Goold and Power have added a wholly new fourth act, where the post-modernist absurdity spirals off into strange territory, with a DVD commentary on the play that the audience has just seen and a discussion of how it is to be staged, followed by a conversation between Pirandello himself and his house-keeper on how to finish the play.
Six Characters challenges us to examine how we view reality. The film-makers claim to be holding "the mirror up to nature", but recent controversies have shown that television reality is even more compromised than fiction (Peter Fincham, referenced in the script, is the BBC Controller forced to resign over footage that misleadingly seemed to show the Queen storming out of an interview in 2007).
As the play progresses, we are seduced by the idea that fiction is actually more real than any reality we can perceive. We grow up, we grow old, we die. Our hair turns grey, our opinions shift, we swap Socialist Worker for the Daily Telegraph. Reality changes but fiction is eternal, and once a character's story is told he takes on a life of his own.
For all its unsettling tragedy, Six Characters has a great deal of humour. But more than that, it celebrates the triumph of fiction and the creative imagination. Hamlet might not be real, but he shows us more about ourselves than Jerry Springer or Wife Swap ever will.
on 12 December 2009
The only two reviews for this product at the moment are for Luigi Pirandello's original text of Six Characters in Search of an Author, this is not the same play!
It is based on Six Characters, yet is re-written to bring them into the modern world as six half-formed stereotypes, many of whom cannot even speak because their parts have not been fully defined, yet they still feel the need to re-enact their story again and again, ultimately leading the Producer of their farce to question her own existence.
I saw this play performed by Headlong Theaters and I have to say I was thrilled. At first the play was dull, then comic as the Six Characters first arrived then suddenly surreal, shocking and dark as their tale unfolds. It was a brilliant performance and if given the chance I highly recommend you see it.
This text would be perfect for professional companies and amatuers alike as the script does not rely heavily on scenery and props.