PROVO — In Utah, theater companies proliferate like rabbits, and An Other Theater Company has just joined us, with a new production of Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author. The play pre-dates the absurdist theatre of the 1950s, characterized by Ionesco, Beckett, and Genet, but it is plenty absurd enough in its own right, raising interesting questions of reality through an intricate structure set in a rehearsal studio.
For this production, Katrina Luthi has adapted the original script, stripping it down to the bare bones. She has kept the six characters, of course, but eliminated all but two of their actor counterparts. Since the conceit of the play is the relationship between the actors in rehearsal (of another Pirandello play) and the intruding characters, a dysfunctional family in search of completion, this decision is problematic, but not fatal.
The cast is in all respects exemplary. Among the characters, the Father’s role is a tour de force, and Regan Cole Whimpey does it justice. His sparring partner from the actors side is the Director (who is the Stage Manager in the original script), played by Chantel Ficklin, and she more than holds her own against the verbal fusillades fired off by the Father. One also has to single out Amy Heimbigner as the Step-Daughter and M. Brooke Wilkins as The Mother, both of whom major and demanding parts.
The other actors are well up to the mark, though their parts are not as heavy. Eliminating all the actors except The Leading Man (played by Adam J. Gowers) and the Leading Lady (played by Caitlin Laurie Bell) and giving them all the lines and the business of the eliminated actors and reduces the strength of the roles. The same is true of the Stage Manager (originally the Manager’s Secretary), played by Briana Lindsey Fisher, who inherits all the lines and business of five stagehands.
The set is very simple, with almost no props. Costumes for the Characters are period, as they should be, and no damage is done by real-life director Paige Porter‘s decision to set the show in the present. However, it is unlikely that any modern theater company would today be staging Pirandello’s Mixing It Up, which means that it is quite a coincidence that the Characters picked this rehearsal to interrupt. The Actors were in a believable rehearsal, and when interrupted reacted much as actors would.
I do question the adapter’s addition of expletives that Pirandello didn’t use, and which add nothing to the play. No doubt Sicilians of Pirandello’s generation used four-letter words, but if he didn’t put them in his play, I don’t see what is gained by introducing them or by what warrant one does so.
Finally, there is the absurdist impact of the play. In one of his many essays on stagecraft, A. A. Milne said that of course the audience knows, at the back of its mind, that the actor playing King Lear has a television set, but the suspension of disbelief allows the audience to accept an actor as Lear. That question of the relationship between actor and character is at the heart of Six Characters. The play is an exploration of reality, with both the Actors and the Characters claiming it. The Director charges that she and the Actors are real, because they are actual people, while the Characters are creations of the playwright. The Father counters that it is because they are created that they are “real,” immutable. The Actors (and indeed the Director and Stage Manager), by contrast, can be one thing today and something else tomorrow.
The question is not settled, of course, but it is made most poignant when the Child drowns and the Boy shoots himself. Are they really dead, or is it pretense? The ambiguity was heightened in this production by the fact that both the Child and the Boy were visible to the audience at the time of their “deaths,” if deaths they were. That was likely a flaw in this specific performance, but one never knows.
Anticlimactically, the Director complains that she has “lost a whole day with these people.” I might be inclined to agree that the audience has wasted (if not a day) at least an hour or so, and yet…. If people spend the whole trip home discussing the question of reality and illusion in the theater, hasn’t Pirandello done his job? Piradello and the modern cast and crew prompt their audience to think about the relationship between the idea of a character, the portrayal of that character by an actor, and the individual behind the actor–you know, the one with the television set.
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