by Lynn on May 7, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Part of Soulpepper’s audio series,  Around the World in 80 Plays.

Audio available until June 30, 2021.

Written by Luigi Pirandello

Translated by Edward Storer

Dramaturgical adaptation on translation by Daniele Bartolini and Luke Reece in collaboration with the cast.

Directed by Daniele Bartolini

Sound design by Matteo Ciardi

Cast: Diego Matamoros

Hannah Miller

Moya O’Connell

Beatriz Pizano

Gregory Prest

Anand Rajaram

Tom Rooney

A clear, compelling, production of Pirandello’s brain-twisting play.

Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello, debuted in Rome May 9, 1921, one hundred years ago, and it’s still going strong.  When Pirandello was awarded the 1934 Nobel Prize in Literature the citation described “his almost magical power to turn psychological analysis into good theatre.”

A group of modern actors and their harried Manager are rehearsing a play—in this case the Canadian classic, Salt Water Moon by David French. This allows for the dramaturgical adapters of Daniele Bartolini, Luke Reece and the cast to insert cutting remarks about: the insistence of funders to produce “Canadian classics that nobody gets excited about anymore”; smarmy reviews, and the notion that critics don’t matter anymore because “how many critics are even left anymore, 2? 3? 1 ½?” (I love that barb).

It’s interesting to read Edward Storer’s own translation (without this adaptation) to appreciate the care that Daniele Bartolini, Luke Reece and the cast took in being true to the spirit and humour of Pirandello. In it The Manager says: “Is it my fault if France won’t send us any more good comedies, and we are reduced to putting on Pirandellos’s works, where nobody understands anything , and where the author plays the fool with us all?” Wickedly delicious!

Into this rehearsal came a strange group of six people, seemingly from another time. Their spokesperson (The Father) says they are six characters looking for an author. They say they each have a dramatic story to tell and give hints of it. But they need an author to put their stories together so there can be a dramatic form. The Father says: “The author who created us alive no longer wished or was no longer able materially to put us into a work of art and this was a real crime…”  because The Father feels they carry a painful drama.

We do get a sense of what the drama is, briefly. These characters are: The Mother, The Father, The Stepdaughter, The Son, The Boy, The Child and Madame Pace. The Father was married to The Mother and they had two children, one of whom was The Son. But The Father saw that The Mother had a kindred spirit in a clerk in his employ.  The Father became bored with The Mother and sent her away (without the son) to live with the other man. They then had two children (one of whom is The Stepdaughter). Then there are scenes in a brothel with The Father who makes a startling discovery regarding one of the young women there. So matters are pretty fraught with these six characters.

How does this play out with the modern actors, one might wonder? The Father is asked: “what do you want here?” And he answers “We want to live….for a moment.”  So the characters want to tell their story on a stage to get their dramatic story out to the world.

Here is where Pirandello’s psychological analysis comes into play. The Father says that the characters are complete and alive because of the way they are written. There is only one way to play their existence, their truth, and that is the way they, the characters will play themselves. The  actors however want to interpret what the playwright wrote for their own purposes. The characters want to play themselves on the stage. They look to The Manager to help by forming the drama.  The Manager and his modern actors want to take over the parts of the characters and the characters balk. For example The Stepdaugher looks at the actress who proposes to play her and she laughs hysterically at how absurd it is because they are nothing alike.  Pirandello being cheeky.

The arguments of the audio drama are clear, bracing and fascinating. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen Six Characters in Search of an Author—or hearing it in this case—that it’s worked so well for me.  The adaptation and the dramaturgical result are dandy—as I said, clear, bracing and fascinating.

The play is directed by Daniele Bartolini who brings his Italian background to this play and the results are compelling. The acting is fine. Diego Matamoros as The Manager is so wonderfully harried and world weary.  But the standout is Anand Rajaram as The Father. His character is so passionate as to convey that what he is saying is a matter of life and death, because it actually is for that character. It’s vital that he be allowed to live exactly as the author wrote him and the others. It’s a play of mind-games.

Loved it.

Six Characters in Search of An Author plays on the Soulpepper website until June 30:

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