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.)