Six Characters in Search of an Author is a parody of the “well-made play.” All theatrical conventions and functions of personnel are examined in the play-within-the-play, which operates on different temporal planes.
A troupe plans to rehearse a play, and the introductory remarks underline the necessity of following Pirandello’s directions. The Actors’ clothing and mirthful comportment contrast with those of the disintegrated family who appear on stage to be immortalized in art. The rehearsal is postponed, and a theater workshop ensues. As the title suggests, the Characters offer a play-in-the-making, which, like the commedia dell’arte, justifies a “crucial scene.” Their attempt to generate a play, based on a sketch that a writer had made before abandoning the project, constitutes the inner play, while the comments of the Director and Actors, as audiences, form the outside comedy. Their improvisations, however, are judged unsatisfactory; they know neither how to create a play nor how to interpret roles. Without a literary text, the theater, too, must reject them. That is their tragedy.
Even though the Characters cannot agree about the facts, a linear plot emerges, and two events are staged. In the first melodramatic tableau, the Father visits Madame Pace’s boutique, a front for a brothel. While he is embracing his wife’s daughter, the Mother instinctively intervenes to safeguard the girl’s virtue. Unlike those of realistic plays, this pivotal scene does not lead to the resolution of a problem. Instead, its repetition shows that the Father refuses to be judged on one act and that the Stepdaughter seeks revenge. The scene is narrated, performed by the Father and Stepdaughter, interpreted by the Actors, and discussed by the troupe and the Characters. Reflected in distorted mirrors, the scene questions the veracity of subjective interpretations of reality.
During the first improvisation, Pace miraculously appears on cue, offering another example of the distinctions between spontaneous actions and incoherent events in life, on the one hand, and artificially structured episodes that freeze characters in an eternal present in art, on the other. She also juxtaposes past and present, and her speech raises the issue of the truth of language.
The widowed Mother agrees to return to her husband’s home, and their Son verbalizes his wish to eliminate the Mother’s illegitimate children: Girl drowns, Boy commits suicide, Stepdaughter departs. Because the Director sees box-office potential in that story, he prepares the stage for the second tableau. Props are arranged, provoking discussion about the transfer of life to the stage. The truth is not always plausible, so the Director aims for verisimilitude. The Characters prefer photographic representation, which is impossible in the theater. The stage of illusion only pretends to dramatize life.
As a stage manager and a group of actors prepare to rehearse a Pirandello play, they are interrupted by the appearance of six characters: a man of about fifty, a woman, a young woman, a young man of twenty-two, a boy of fourteen, and a little girl. The man and the young woman are searching for an author who will put all six of them into a drama. They insist that they are already living characters but that they need an author to put their drama into suitable form for the stage. The manager, at first annoyed at the interruption of his rehearsal, finally listens with some interest to the rather confused story that the man and the young woman, who, it turns out, is his stepdaughter, try to tell him.
Years ago the father got rid of his wife, whom he found both boring and pitiable, by providing her with a lover, his former secretary, to whom she might go when she was rejected by her husband. Long afterward, the father visited Madame Pace’s dress shop, a legitimate business that she operated as a cover for her procuring, and was provided with a pretty young woman whom he did not recognize as his...
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