As with many of Pirandello’s plays, Right You Are, If You Think You Are is an adaptation of one of his short stories, ‘‘Signora Frola and Signor Ponza, Her Son-in-Law,’’ published in 1915. The story concerns the conflicting versions of the truth told by the characters of the title, and comes right to the point by declaring that one of them is mad. Determining which one is mad, and where fantasy meets reality, is the focus of the play and of the townspeople. Signora Frola explains that her son-in-law went mad when her daughter, his wife, died four years ago, then remarried but fantasizes that the new wife is his old wife. For his part, Ponza claims that Signora Frola could not accept her daughter’s death, went mad, and only survives by believing that his second wife is in actuality her living daughter; it is for this reason, he says, that he guards his wife so jealously. In the play, as Renate Matthei describes in her 1973 work on Pirandello, ‘‘the social role built up by one character for himself is continually destroyed by another, devaluated into a sick sham existence that outsiders accept as real only out of pity.’’ Neither the short story nor the play gives the satisfaction of an answer; in fact, the ambiguities expand as the townspeople press for more data in their vain attempts to fix reality through the unreliable medium of perception. Both the play and the short story are representative of Pirandello’s obsession with the fine line between fantasy and reality as they are experienced in human consciousness. As he explained to his son in a 1916 letter, the plot is a ‘‘great deviltry.’’
Act I Summary
The play opens in the parlor of Commendatore Agazzi. Agazzi’s wife Amalia, their daughter Dina, and Amalia’s brother Laudisi are arguing about an affront the ladies have suffered from Signora Frola, a newcomer to the town who refused to see them when they called. On a second visit, Ponza, her sonin- law, coolly answered the door and again frustrated their visit. To top it off, the town is curious about Ponza’s wife, because she never goes out and never visits her mother, although Ponza does daily. Ladisi accuses the women of nosiness, and is incensed that they intend to have Signor Agazzi complain to Ponza’s boss, the Prefect, about his behavior. While they debate whether Ponza has actually done anything wrong, the butler announces visitors. Three town gossips, Sirelli, his wife, and Signora Cini, join in the fray, also eager to know the truth about the newcomers. Laudisi finds their obsession laughable, since as he demonstrates, he himself is ‘‘a different person for each of [them].’’ Signora Sirelli calls his pessimism ‘‘dreadful.’’ The new gossips mention that Ponza and company’s village was destroyed by an earthquake recently, which may explain why they all dress in black. Agazzi arrives to announce that he has arranged a visit from Signora Frola herself, and soon thereafter, the old lady is announced.
Signora Frola, a sweet, sad, older lady, apologizes for her negligence of her ‘‘social duties,’’ defends her strange family relations, and tells of having lost all of her relatives in the village earthquake. The group pursues her with questions, and they worm out of her that Ponza loves her daughter so jealously that he insists on their communicating only through him. Despite this, she considers him a loving son-in-law. After she leaves, the group condemns Ponza for his cruelty. Now, Ponza himself arrives, and is coldly received. But he throws everyone off with a complex explanation that his motherin- law is insane, that her daughter is really dead, that his present wife is his second wife, although Signora Frola thinks she is her daughter. Ponza keeps them separated to protect his new wife. Now Ponza’s story is accepted.
They are processing new attitudes when the butler announces another visitor: Signora Frola again. After mildly chastising them for interfering with her family,...
(The entire section is 1,689 words.)