by Anna Bratulic
The final play chosen for the Theatre Departments 2001-2002
season scandalized the audience when it first premiered, in Rome in 1921.
However, Luigi Pirandellos 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 Pirandellos career, as rave reviews
followed from London, Paris and New York.
Theatre was the hotbed of cultural discussion at the time, so its
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 somebodys 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
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. Its 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 cant possibly reproduce life. We cant, 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. Thats
all that art can or should do, and thats why hyperrealism in theatre,
for me, is pointless because it is fake and theres no reason to
pretend its 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 todays 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 persons 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.