CTR Home Internal  Relations and Communications Home About CTR Publication Schedule CTR Archives

April 11, 2002 Pirandello classic turns the tables on playwrights and actors



Eva Holmes

Director Eda Holmes

by Anna Bratulic

The final play chosen for the Theatre Department’s 2001-2002 season scandalized the audience when it first premiered, in Rome in 1921.

However, Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author became a modern classic, famous for the way it looks at the function of theatre in society by reversing the roles of performer and spectator.

At its world premiere in 1921, this unusual approach had the Roman audience abuzz with protest — inside the theatre during the play, and then spilling outside into the streets. While it was treated as a scandal first, Six Characters catapulted Pirandello’s career, as rave reviews followed from London, Paris and New York.

“Theatre was the hotbed of cultural discussion at the time, so it’s not unusual that reaction was so intense,” says director Eda Holmes, who studied directing at the National Theatre School. “It opened up the possibilities of what theatre could be, because a lot of theatre was a box set and a kitchen-sink drama, some really banal reproduction of somebody’s life.”

In the story, a company of actors are rehearsing when a family of fictional characters interrupt their rehearsal in the hope of having their story staged. At first, the actors dismiss them as odd and annoying, but the actors soon become the audience, riveted by the characters’ melodramatic lives.

Conflict arises when the director finally agrees that the characters’ story could be staged. The characters, each with their own version of the truth, naively expect that every facet and nuance of their tale will be told with the utmost accuracy and completeness, while the director makes cuts, alters and, for practical reasons, simplifies the tragedy they are living.

“Theatre is fake. It’s always fake, but the emotional truth is what Pirandello is interested in. He is attempting to render emotional truth as the most fake situation possible,” Holmes said.

“We can’t possibly reproduce life. We can’t, for example, make a baby. Only a human being can make a real live baby. So, art benefits from not being inside, but from being outside, looking back down on something, and choosing the details that render a specific point of view. That’s all that art can or should do, and that’s why hyperrealism in theatre, for me, is pointless because it is fake and there’s no reason to pretend it’s not.”

This play exposes the limitations of the theatre and how this leads to a voluntary suspension of belief by the spectator which can amount to a very powerful sort of self-delusion.

“There are so many layers of reality applied to the theatrical experience that when we watch something like Juliet killing herself, we cry as if she really died, and yet we can pass by people in the street who really are suffering and not feel a thing,” Holmes said.

As film and television are today’s media of choice for most people, Holmes is adapting the play to fit the times. She is injecting a documentary film component, and modifying the characters to mimic those in Italian cinema of the 1950s and 60s to show that the central themes of the play are as relevant as ever.

“I think what makes the play really important now is that with the Internet, television, film and the availability of information in general, we take what we read and see to be truth. This play reminds us that truth is so complex and that the perception of one person’s truth is usually based on a single event in their life.

“How can we afford to trust what is presented as truth without question? Once you begin to question that which is presented as truth, your mind opens up and you become a more active participant in society.”

Six Characters in Search of an Author runs from April 12-21 at the D. B. Clarke Theatre. Box Office at 848-4742 for tickets and information.