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Father explains that as their author unjustly denied them stage-life and its immortality, they bring their drama to the company. The seductive Step-Daughter begins its elaboration: after what took place between her and Father, she cannot remain in society, and she cannot bear to witness her widowed Mother’s anguish for her legitimate Son. Confused, the Manager asks for the situation and wonders how a Mother can be a widow if the Father is alive. The Step-Daughter explains that the Mother’s lover-her, the Child, and Boy’s father-died two months ago. Father proper once had a clerk who befriended Mother. Seeing the “mute appeal” in their eyes, he sent her off with him and took her Son. As soon as the clerk died, the family fell into poverty and, unbeknownst to Father, returned to town. Step-Daughter became a prostitute for Madame Pace. The “eternal moment” of their drama shows the Step-Daughter surprising Father as her unsuspecting client. Father then gestures to the Son, whose cruel aloofness is the hinge of the action. The Mother will re-enter the house with the outside family. Because the son will make her family feel foreign to the household, the Child will die, the Boy will meet tragedy, and Step- Daughter will flee.The Manager takes interest. He gives the Actors a twenty-minute break and retires with the Characters to his office. After twenty minutes, the stage bell rings. The Step-Daughter emerges from the office with the Child and Boy. She laments the Child’s death in the fountain and angrily forces Boy to show his revolver. If she had been in his place, she would have killed Father and Son, not herself. Everyone returns to the stage, and the Manager orders the set prepared for rehearsal. Confused, Father wonders why the Characters themselves should not go before the public. The Manager scoffs that actors act. The Manager suddenly notices that Pace is missing. Father asks the Actresses to hang their hats and mantles on the set’s clothes pegs. Lured by the articles of her trade, Pace appears from the rear. The Leading Lady denounces this “vulgar trick.” Father wonders why the actors are so anxious to destroy the “magic of the stage” in the name of a “commonplace sense of truth.” Pace’s scene with Step-Daughter begins before Father finishes. When the actors urge them to speak more loudly, Step-Daughter replies that they cannot discuss such matters loudly-Father might overhear. Pace comes forward, saying, “Yes indeed sir, I no wanta take advantage of her.” The actors erupt in laughter. The Manager finds the comic relief of her accent magnificent. Father cautiously greets the young prostitute and gallantly offers her a new hat. Step-Daughter protests that she cannot wear one as she is in mourning. The Manager interrupts, and calls the Leading Man and Lady to play the same scene. Father protests, and Step-Daughter bursts out laughing. The Manager complains that he never could rehearse with the author present.
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He instructs the Father to continue. When Step-Daughter speaks of her grief, he must reply “‘I understand.'” Step-Daughter interrupts: Father actually asked her to remove her frock. She refuses to let them compose a “romantic sentimental scene” out of her disgrace. Acknowledging that tomorrow the actors will do the first act. The Manager approves and notes that the curtain will then fall. To his annoyance, the Machinist lets the curtain down in earnest.The curtain rises, revealing new scenery: a drop, a few trees, and the portion of a fountain basin. The Step-Daughter tells the exasperated Manager that the entire action cannot take place in the garden. The Manager protests that they cannot change scenes three or four times in an act. The Leading Lady remarks that it makes the illusion easier. Father bristles at the word “illusion.” Pausing, he approaches the Manager asks if he can tell him who he really is. A character can always pose this question to a man as he is always somebody while a man might be nobody. If man thinks of all his past illusions that now do not even seem to exist, perhaps his present reality is not fated to become an illusion tomorrow. The character is more real as his reality is immutable. The Manager commands Father to stop his philosophizing. He is but imitating the manner of an author he heartily detest The Manager prepares the scene. Step-Daughter leads Child to the fountain. “Both at the same time” the Manager commands. The Second Lady Lead and Juvenile Lead approach and study Mother and Son. The Son objects that it is impossible to live before a mirror that not only “freezes us with the image of ourselves, but throws out likeness back at us with a horrible grimace.” He also protests that there was no scene between he and Mother. When Mother went to his room to speak with him, he simply went into the garden. He then saw the drowning Child in the fountain, and the Boy standing stock still like a madman, watching her. A shot rings out from behind the trees where the Boy is hidden. Some cry that the Boy is dead; others that it is only “make believe” and “pretence.” “Pretence? Reality?” the Manager cries in frustration. “To hell with it all. Never in my life has such a thing happened to me. I’ve lost a whole day over these people, a whole day!”
ANNE PAOLUCCI ON PIRANDELLO’S EXPLORATION OFTHEATER AS A MEDIUM
When, in 1923, at the age of 56, Luigi Pirandello won European acclaim with the Pitoëff production of Six Characters in Search of an Author (the same play that had been booed and had caused a riot at its premiere in Rome two years earlier), the Italian writer had already published six of his seven novels, several scattered volumes of short stories, and four volumes of poetry. His reputation as a writer of fiction was already established when he turned to drama; and although he never gave up writing novels and short stories (and was to convert many of these into plays in the years that followed), Pirandello had clearly shifted his sights and direction by 1923. For the rest of his life his artistic priorities were to be focused on theater.
As a playwright, however, Pirandello soon hit on a new and powerful theme, perhaps the inevitable result of focusing on the barren lives of people living in a barren place, where nature itself is hostile and the individual a victim without reprieve. His earliest plays as well as his novels and short stories examined the effect of such an existence in the most detailed way; but by 1921,with Six Characters, he turned with even greater fascination to exploring personality in its conscious and deliberate effort to come to terms with the environment. We see in Six Characters a new obsession translated powerfully into a stage language itself new and overwhelming.
With Six Characters the focus shifts: the core story becomes a distant motif, an echo, a reminder that all experience must pass through the mirror of the self and must be evaluated in terms of that mirror image. The shift can surely be attributed to some extent to the demands of the stage, which-for Pirandello-was the ideal medium for bringing together the illusion of life and the reality of the self. In this play “escape” also becomes freedom from the predictable connection between intentions and deeds: freedom from stage conventions, dramatic action and resolution, familiar dialogue and internal communications. There is nothing uncertain about this first “theater” play; it too is a fully mature product, an incredible tour-de-force, an experiment that could not have been foreseen but would never be forgotten. It marks the beginning of the contemporary theater with all its fragmented attitudes, states of mind, contradictory emotions,Hamlet-like irrelevancies; but little of what follows in other parts of the world will match the totality of the Pirandello experiment. Hamlet-like irrelevancies; but little of what follows in other parts of the world will match the totality of the Pirandello experiment.
THE THEATER OF THE THEATER
As noted in the Context, Pirandello retrospectively grouped Six Characters in a trilogy of the “theater of the theater.” These works generate their drama out of the theater’s elements-in this case, through the conflict between actors, manager and characters, and the missing author. For Pirandello, the theater is itself theatrical-that is, it is itself implicated in the forms and dynamics of the stage. Beginning with a supposed daytime rehearsal, Six Characters puts the theater and its processes themselves on stage. Put otherwise, the play is an allegory for the theater. Thus it presents characters dubbed the Second Leading Lady and Property Man and it hinges on multiple frames of (self)-reference, staging the staging of a play within the play. Akin to a hall of mirrors, this device, the mise-en- abîme, is common to plays that would reflect on the properties of their own medium. Self-referentiality attains heights here. The play’s act divisions, for example, mirror those of the Characters’ drama, a number of scenes show the Actors playing the doubles of the audience, and onward. Crucial to this project is a dismantling of the conventions of the “well-made” play that would render the play’s workings visible to the spectator. Six Characters often appears improvisational, sketch-like, what the Manager calls a “glorious failure.” Note the aborted rehearsal, rejected and incompletely drawn characters, hastily assembled sets, and onward. To anticipate the Father’s confession, one could describe Pirandello as perhaps subject to the “Demon of Experiment.”
THE AUTHOR FUNCTION
In the rehearsal of another of Pirandello’s plays within this one, the figure of Pirandello immediately appears as the maddening native playwright who “plays the fool” with everyone. Such fantasies of authorship are intrinsic to the literary work. The author is not only that which the characters search for; but as Pirandello laments in his preface to the play, the spectator as well. “What does the author intend?” wonders the audience. Though absent, the author haunts the stage. He will not assume body like the characters but become a function or mask that circulates among the players. Though in the preface Pirandello describes authorship through metaphors of divine and even the Immaculate Conception, speaking of “miracles,” and “divine births,” such identifications are covered over within the play. There the Father decidedly appears as the author’s double.
THE CHARACTER’S REALITY
Throughout the play, the Father insists on the reality of the Characters, a reality that, as the stage notes indicates, inheres in their forms and expressions. The Father offers his most explicit meditation on the Character’s reality in Act II. Here he bristles at the Actors’ use of the word illusion as it relies on its vulgar opposition to reality. He approaches the Manager in a sort of face-off to challenge this opposition, one that underpins his identity. Convinced of his self-identity, the Manager readily responds that he is himself. The Father believes otherwise. While the Character’s reality is real, the Actors’ is not; while the Character is somebody, man is nobody. Man is nobody because he is subject to time: his reality is fleeting, always ready to reveal itself as illusion, whereas the Character’s reality remains fixed for eternity. Put otherwise, time enables an opposition between reality and illusion for man. Over time, man comes to identify realities as illusion, whereas the Character exists in the timeless reality of art.
Pirandello, Luigi, 1867-1936-Criticism and interpretation. I. Bloom, Harold. II. Series.
Book Title: Characters and Authors in Luigi Pirandello. Contributors: Ann Hallamore Caesar – author. Publisher: Clarendon Press. Place of Publication: Oxford. Publication Year: 1998.
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