Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 537
Tonight We Improvise is an essay on theater; its most obvious theme is the relative importance of actors and director, action and spectacle, in the making of a play. Though dedicated to director Max Reinhardt, in the pageantry, “scenic creations,” and lighting effects of Doctor Hinkfuss, the play satirizes the...
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Tonight We Improvise is an essay on theater; its most obvious theme is the relative importance of actors and director, action and spectacle, in the making of a play. Though dedicated to director Max Reinhardt, in the pageantry, “scenic creations,” and lighting effects of Doctor Hinkfuss, the play satirizes the Reinhardt-like director who lets technical theater control the script. In the scenes of the father’s death and Mommina’s imprisonment and suffering, the actors show that a drama can be made with only “two boards and a passion.” Still, the actors’ desire to stick closer to the scenario and to have written dialogue indicates the importance of the playwright’s conception and poetry. Hinkfuss’s reentry at the end of the play recognizes the value to a theatrical production of both the physical staging and an organizing presence.
The more important art theme, however, is that of the paradox of art: Life’s movement finally results in the fixity of death, but art’s immutable form lives eternally. Through improvisation, Doctor Hinkfuss tries to escape in temporal theater the “crystallization” of the playwright’s literary art.
A broader theme is the paradox of being and seeming; this contrast between appearance and reality is best shown in the Sicilian story that the actors dramatize (although their moving in and out of character and in and out of the audience beautifully illustrates the philosophical concept of multiple planes of reality). In the interior play, the La Croce women, apparently frivolous, are actually competent in women’s domestic tasks. Their behavior, though it seems immoral to the Sicilians, is shown in the home scene to be free but innocent. Even their interest in theater and opera, which at first seems to be escapist, becomes in the flux of time the practical means of their economic survival.
A corollary to the paradox of being and seeming is Luigi Pirandello’s conception of the multiplicity of personality. The various personalities may be imposed by others, by the passage of time, and by oneself. The Sicilians, including Verri, impose upon Mommina the quality of looseness that they ascribe to her mother and sisters. To please Verri, she herself assumes a puritanical character, but Verri attributes to her a deep-lying wildness, the appearance of which he must hide by confining her to his home. With the passage of time, Verri’s distrust creates in Mommina a spirit of resignation, defeat, and weariness. Then time and external circumstance again reveal another face: When she has learned of her sister’s success, Mommina admits having a stifled personality; she says that she is the one who should have become the successful singer. In her swan song she becomes again the person who had loved music and performance and the joys of the gypsy maiden’s free life. Mommina’s death, the leading lady’s participation in it, and, in the intensity of this tragic moment, Hinkfuss’s abandoning his plan to end the play with a “bit of farce”—these and the father’s earlier identification of the chanteuse’s tearful performance with his daughter’s genuine sorrow demonstrate Pirandello’s ever-present vision of the life of being and seeming as one of intense suffering.