Six Characters in Search of an Author balances the highly intellectual with the stylish
Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author is an extremely self-aware meta-theatrical drama whose success relies heavily upon the calibre of several key actors.
The complex cerebral drama, being staged at the McGill Players’ Theatre Nov. 12-15 and 19-22, explores the relationship between authors and art, players and characters.
Written in 1921, this pre-absurdist play uses the “play within a play” structure to blend the real with the imagined in a way that makes us question our own perception of reality.
The rough plot involves actors and technicians at a theatre company who are interrupted in the middle of a rehearsal by the entrance of six strange people, claiming to be unfinished characters. The visitors insist on staging their own dramatic narrative and plead with the director to help them realize their story.
This blended family, lead by a patriarch who is filled with remorse and has a tendency to wax philosophical, is set apart from the others by their ‘20s-era fashion, commedia dell’arte-inspired masks and ghostly blue lips.
The Father, played by Nicholas LePage, alternates driving the action forward and going on seemingly endless tangents of existential thought. LePage shines bright in this role, doing a superb job of holding the play’s illogical and verbose fabric together.
Mal Cleary, as the character of the Director, in turn balances the Father’s preaching monologues with his energetic performance and practical, somewhat skeptical approach to the unusual situation.
As the six characters relive their dramatic tale onstage, the actors from the rehearsal become spectators, taking places in the audience and engaging in the action less and less.
While the leads are given plenty of opportunities to show off their acting chops, the script doesn’t allow for much development of the supporting cast who ultimately fade into the background.
The staging is simple and makes use of four large screens that are lit from behind with colourful LEDs to allow for innovative shadow play and easy change of scenery.
While this use of lighting is very creative, the overall design leaves something to be desired. Much of the action takes place in low lighting to the point where key exchanges happen in semi-darkness, while other areas of the stage are needlessly bright.
The play delves into several key questions concerning the creation of art and theatre, the role of actors and the ownership of performance. The intellectual nature of the show may not be suited to every audience’s tastes, but for fans of Pirandello or those interested in existential philosophy, Six Characters in Search of an Author makes for a truly thought-provoking presentation.
Six Characters in Search of an Author runs at the Players’ Theatre Nov. 19 to 22, at 8 p.m. Tickets for students are $6, and $10 for adults. For more information, visit playerstheatre.ca.