The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Tonight We Improvise begins with a lowering of the houselights, the sounds of a squabble behind the curtain, queries from actors planted in the audience, and at length the director’s entrance from the lobby. Doctor Hinkfuss, declaring that any play is its director’s scenic creation, which, with the help of the audience, brings life to the playwright’s art, explains that he will create tableaux in which the actors will enact impromptu Pirandello’s Sicilian story of “jealousy of the past.” The curtain, raised for the first act, reveals another curtain, from behind which the actors come, costumed, to oppose Hinkfuss’s introducing them as actors. Moving in and out of character, the actors provide the exposition: Signora Ignazia La Croce and her daughters, stuck in a traditional Sicilian town, shock the local people with their free, though innocent, pleasures of entertaining young aviation officers (one of whom, Verri, is himself a Sicilian) and of attending and singing melodramatic operas. The actors demand more script; the director demands more poses.

After a five-minute pause, Hinkfuss presents a religious procession of four monks, four young virgins, the Holy Family, and sundry rustics, who parade down the theater aisles into the church on the set of a Sicilian town. Religious music changes to jazz as the lights come up on the town’s cabaret, where customers surreptitiously put paper cuckold’s horns on Signor Palmiro La Croce’s hat as a joke upon the looseness of his household. They also taunt him because he is touched by the crying chanteuse, who reminds him of his daughter Mommina. Outside, the cabaret crowd meets “General Ignazia,” her daughters, and their officer beaux on the march to the theater. The cabaret tricksters tell Signora Ignazia that they respect her husband but have no respect for her; she calls them low-life ruffians, scoundrels, and wild beasts. Verri and the other officers defend the ladies. The director sends the Signora’s party offstage to reappear in a box in the theater audience. Meanwhile, he has a cinema screen and a phonograph set up on the stage. The film, accompanied by recorded music, is the end of the first act of an “old Italian melodrama.” The talkative entrance of the tardy La Croce party causes a disturbance, and the audience and the party exchange insults. When the acts of the melodrama and of Tonight We Improvise end simultaneously, Doctor Hinkfuss explains that the Signora’s party will take intermission in the lobby while he and the stage crew erect the set of an airfield on the open stage.

Act 2 consists of the...

(The entire section is 1076 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Tonight We Improvise is a paradigmatic theatricalist play. Even before the audience buys its tickets, Pirandello instructed, the first theatricalist device should have begun its work on them: The comedy was to be advertised as an evening of pure improvisation by the actual actors, listed by name, under the management of Doctor Hinkfuss. No author was to be identified. However, every line, every ad-lib, every setting, every lighting effect, every pageant, every tableau is carefully scripted by the author to present the theatricalist vision of multifaceted reality.

A theatricalist playwright can present this vision of all the world as stage by means of any and all manner of stagecraft as long as the level of reality is occasionally jarred. In this play Pirandello does use all. On the naked stage, Hinkfuss constructs a set; the realism of the La Croces’ middle-class drawing room is broken both by impressionistic lighting and by the actors’ occasionally appearing as themselves; the perspective painting of the Sicilian village is backlighted to show the interior of the cabaret; a film represents the live play that the La Croces attend; the religious procession to the village church reenacts pageantry in everyday life and counterpoints the La Croces’ procession to the theater; a symbolist setting implies Mommina’s confinement. Whatever the stagecraft, the milieu is always the stage.

As with stagecraft, so also with plot: The...

(The entire section is 533 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Bassanese, Fiora A. Understanding Luigi Pirandello. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.

Biasin, Gian-Paolo, and Manuela Gieri, eds. Luigi Pirandello: Contemporary Perspectives. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999.

Brustein, Robert. “Pirandello’s Drama of Revolt.” In The Theatre of Revolt. Boston: Little, Brown, 1962.

Caesar, Ann H. Characters and Authors in Luigi Pirandello. Hyattsville, Md.: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Giudice, Gaspare. Pirandello: A Biography. Translated by Alastair Hamilton. London: Oxford University Press, 1975.

Matthaei, Renate. Luigi Pirandello. Translated by Simon and Erika Young. New York: F. Ungar, 1973.

Oliver, Roger W. Dreams of Passion: The Theater of Luigi Pirandello. New York: New York University Press, 1979.

Paolucci, Anne. Pirandello’s Theater: The Recovery of the Modern Stage for Dramatic Art. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1974.

Sinicropi, Giovanni. “The Later Phase: Toward Myth.” In Pirandello: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Glauco Cambon. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1967.