"Six Characters' at People's Light

Pirandello updated:
The play that changed our vision of theater


    Whenever a classic play can be brought to life with the audience feeling as if they’re participants in real-life incidents, it’s time to stand up and cheer. Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, newly translated and adapted by Louis Lippa, creates such an ambiance at People’s Light that we almost forget to applaud the skilled actors who portray the theatrical group in rehearsal. They are part of us. We’ve become so immersed in the drama unfolded by those six surprise visitors to the theater that we share the director’s erratic interest and frustrations: Can’t anything ever go right? Why do these things always happen to me?

    The cast is assembling for a rehearsal of a Pirandello play, a low-key run through without costumes or staging. Suddenly, six strange individuals, clothed in almost forgotten styles, force their way in, demanding stage time. This strange and estranged family, bound together in an endless hell of repetition, claims to be characters created by a playwright, only to be abandoned in this time capsule. Unlike real people, who constantly evolve, these individuals have no other masks to wear. They must always be what they are in this first act: unfinished characters. Perhaps another author will be inspired to resolve their dilemma. If their drama could be performed, they might find someone to settle their lives.

    Their “drama” is a hackneyed melodrama of innocent virtue corrupted in the name of money, and the rationalizations that follow from all sides. The characters are stock figures— some representing the mind, instinct and passions, others silent symbols of purity and defeat. But we care about each of them. They may be illusions of the stage, but they seem true; the actors who are selected to portray them feel false.

A riot in Rome

    This conceit is magic, especially when we realize that Pirandello’s play is almost a century old, and no playwright had ever before destroyed the proscenium separating the stage and audience. Its first performance in Rome in 1921 caused a riot, but Six Characters quickly became a worldwide hit. After Pirandello, all hell breaks loose: You get Brecht, Camus, Ionesco, Albee and all the others who will change our vision of life and theater.

    Louis Lippa, People’s Light’s playwright in residence, brought to his translation and adaptation of Pirandello’s play knowledge of both the drama and the language with all its nuances. Lippa has turned what was originally a one-act play into a two-hour play of two acts with a 15-minute intermission. Lippa has also created a contemporary setting and dialogue for the theater group in rehearsal. Local references amused the audience and helped inject a sense of camaraderie.

    In the superb first act, I didn’t want to breathe for fear of missing some perfect phrase, such as, “We like to think we communicate but we never do. Our actions define us.” The second act dragged in spots, especially in the beginning. It was longer and slower than the first, losing its force along the way. Fortunately, the play regained its momentum in the final scene.

A director or an actor?

    Ken Marini’s able direction makes us feel as if we are so much a part of the rehearsal that we want to compliment Matt Mezzacappa, who plays the Assistant Stage Manager in a pro-active manner that transcends illusion. Peter DeLaurier is so good as the Director that it comes as a surprise at the end that he is acting: To the audience, he is the director. Stephen Novelli, the Father, seems physically consumed by a guilt that he cannot rationalize or accept. Kim Carson, the Stepdaughter, is almost too carnal for sympathy —or was she just trying to rationalize her actions for absolution? If Carson occasionally seemed to be overacting in Act II, perhaps that was a choice made by Pirandello in the script.

    Since its founding in 1974, People’s Light has developed a specialty in mounting plays that have made a difference in the history of theater. Most of its actors belong to Actors’ Equity Association, assuring a high level of professionalism. If you’re interested in theater, you cannot miss this one. Six Characters is rarely performed, is thoroughly mesmerizing and raises questions that cannot be answered.

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