For their first show of the season, the AU Players, a student-run theatre group, staged Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of An Author, directed by sophomore Claire Tietze. The play, known for it’s metatheatrical and absurdist nature, tells a story that can be messy and hard to follow for those unfamiliar with the plot.
Pirandello’s play is about a cast rehearsing for a show called The Rules of the Game when a new cast, who are “characters” themselves enter and begin performing a show that is not just a show, but also their “real” lives. Confused yet?
A Director, played by freshman Sydney Oullette, and various actors are rehearsing when six masked figures dressed in all black enter their auditorium, which is set up not onstage, but rather within the Kreeger auditorium itself, with the Director and the Stage Manager, played by Egbert Ospina, sitting in the first few rows. Tietze’s staging decision brings the audience closer to the play, as if the audience really is sitting in on a rehearsal gone wrong.
The six characters enter, led by the father of this family. He pleads for a writer to construct their story. Although not a writer herself, the Director is intrigued and eventually agrees to hear their story with the idea of possibly staging it with her actors later.
What unfolds is a complex retelling of family drama between a mother, father, son, step-daughter, and two young children that involves plenty of dense monologues, shouting, removing and replacing of masks, and storming on and off stage, utilizing the entire auditorium as a stage.
What makes this show intriguing is the uncertainty of what the characters are merely recreating about their lives, and what they are newly experiencing in their “real lives”. This blurring of lines between reality and re-creation is complemented as the play progresses by the nagging reminder that the family story being recreated is not the real show. Whenever the tension rises and the action begins getting heated or emotional as the characters explain their family drama the director will interject with comments on how she plans to stage her version, which interrupts any catharsis that the audience may have been anticipating. Although the dialogue is heavy, making the plot difficult to follow for those unfamiliar with the story, the unique metatheatrical nature along with the strategic utilization of the Kreeger auditorium, interesting lighting, eerie masks, and excellent acting combine for a unique and exciting presentation.
Below are some thoughts about the performance from Sydney Oullette, who played the Director.
C (Casey): How was the experience of your first college show and how did you prepare for it?
S (Sydney): Well it was certainly different than the typical high school level. It was literally every single day we had to rehearse and we had to research and just talk about it. It was a different level of dedication. The play was written in 1921 by an Italian playwright so the language was very different. The first time we did a read-through, we had no idea what it was about, so going through, we’d look at SparkNotes, we’d think ‘Oh, I think the step-daughter is pointing to this person and not this person because…’ so and so. I actually went to Professor Gail [Humpries-Mardirosian, AU theatre professor] and actually asked her opinion on it because she’s seen the play so many times. I asked her what she thought it was about or what the playwright was trying to prove. It’s such a different from of meta-physical theatre, so it was harder to easily grasp in comparison to the typical show.
C: How did you approach your character, the Director, from a creative point of view?
S: At first when I was going through the script I had to establish my character as the comparing point to the fictional characters onstage. It’s funny actually, after seeing Pippin, I connected it so well with Pirandello’s play, not just acting-wise, but theme-wise. The controlling and trying to figure out ‘Is this real? Is this not real?’ which leaves the director questioning at the end. But the director at the same time has that influence over the characters and the family, trying to just push for more information, and push the play, which is what the Leading Player does very well in Pippin as well. So I did draw influence from Pippin to try and put in the persuasion aspect of my character.
C: How does your portrayal of the Director compare to the Director of Pirandello’s original text?
S: I personally had a more modern view of the director, because we performed the show more modernly. Originally the text has a much older feel, like the step-daughter talks about wearing corsets and such, so it has an older feel to it, but we tried making in modern in a sense so as not to confuse the audience even more. Also, the Director is originally played by a male, so there’s a different attitude in the role from the elderly perspective of a male viewpoint, in comparison to the way I viewed it, as a respectable woman director, who was not only feared, but whose opinion on theatre itself mattered immensely to the actors and audience.
C: What are your thoughts about metaphysical theatre and the confusing elements and questions that result from it?
S: What Pippin does is it asks the same questions that older playwrights were asking in the beginning of the 20th century. Pirandello pushes us and asks, “What’s real and what’s not?” while looking at it from a different perspective, which is what Pippin does very well. I think it shows nowadays just looking at situations in a more creative and different perspective than what a typical audience would see. Like the show within a show in Pippin, Six Characters was also a show within a show in a sense, because you literally see the rehearsal process, but then you also see the struggle of determining what’s real and what’s not, as these characters start to perform their lives for you. It’s an illusion but it’s not an illusion. The father actually goes into a whole rant where he’s saying “Don’t use that word, this is our reality!” So it’s just different form of putting the question of what someone else’s illusion is, could be someone else’s reality. We could even apply this to real life when we see something on the news of war or genocide, and you think, ‘Is this real?’ because we’re not living it but we’re seeing it. Is seeing it an illusion or connecting to something that’s real?