It's rare that I'm excited when I see a play listed on a local theater's upcoming season listing. When I saw Six Characters in Search of an Author would be a part of IPFW's 2016-2017 season, though, I was truly pleased. Although I hadn't read it in several years, it's always been one of my favorites
Seeing the masked Characters walk through the back entrance of the Studio Theatre was exciting to me since the characters in question felt like unchanged old friends, and it was, at the very least, an interesting experience for other members of the audience on opening night. It was clear, too, that meeting this strange family was fun and thought-provoking for the rest of the audience.
As directed and modified from Luigi Pirandello's original 1934 script by IPFW Department of Theatre Chair Beverly Redman, Six Characters tells the story of the cast and crew of a production of Macbeth. It was an effective decision on Redman's part to transport the scene to IPFW and add references to members of the Department of Theatre, the campus itself and contemporary happenings. Doing so made it feel as if Pirandello's odd Characters had truly just walked into the actual space we as audience members were inhabiting with the players on the open stage.
Thanks to luck and the open seating of the little theater, I ended up sitting next to Redman, as I found out during the first of two intermissions when she overheard me say that I was teaching the play in a literature class this semester and introduced herself. Watching her tune into the reactions of the audience as they watched the unusual plot of the play within a play gave me a little something extra.
Without giving away too much, I can say that, with a somewhat shaky memory of what the ending actually might mean and require of an actual audience, I took advantage of my position next to the director and actually asked what to do when the play seemed to be over and there was no clear answer. Going to see this is worth the time and ticket price if for no reason other the challenge of figuring out the ending.
Redman told me that the changes she had made to the original script and setting were to make the play more accessible to a local and modern audience. The changes work beautifully and no doubt enrich the overall impact of the play for theatergoers.
The Characters (Father, Mother, Step-Daughter, Son, Boy, Child) who interrupt the rehearsal of a contemporary performance have been in a kind of limbo, as they were created by an author who abandoned them without fully completing the play in which they "lived." So, they propose to the director and actors of the production on stage that they be given life by a staging of their sad story. As one of the Characters explains, "the instrument of the creation will die, but his creation does not die," and they are desperate to be given a chance to live, if only momentarily.
As the Father tells us, "Ours is an immutable reality which should make you shudder when you approach us if you are really conscious of the fact that your reality is a mere transitory and fleeting illusion, taking this form today and that tomorrow." Their constant state of sameness leads the Characters to sometimes seem almost cartoonish, which is made completely understandable by the script and actors.
The decisions of the production team work brilliantly. The student actors of both parts of the cast give fine performances and the black box theater is used exceptionally well as the play within the play is built, allowing the characters their chance to live, if only for a moment, as Pirandello's Characters suggest, in IPFW's young cast.