Shows Worth Seeing:
Six Characters in Search of an Author
By Luigi Pirandello
BAM Harvey Theater
651 Fulton St., Brooklyn
As a professor of drama, I am painfully aware of the yawning chasm between the literary reputation and the theatrical reality of Six Characters in Search of an Author. This 1921 classic by Pirandello is rarely produced professionally nowadays but for decades it has been an old standby for college theater departments—the large cast and intellectual content meet all the requirements for academic production. For this reason, anyone in my position has seen it done a dozen times in deadly and interminable earnestness. I sometimes think it would do more honor to Pirandello to limit study of Six Characters to seminars, because the bad student productions snuff out the flames of incipient interest whereas the intellectual discussions tend to be lively and at least probe the fascinating nuances of the work’s inquiry into the deadly seriousness of theater and the relationship between illusion and reality.
How invigorating and delightfully unforeseen, then, to find the work exquisitely done by a first-rank professional troupe from France. This Théâtre de la Ville production, directed by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, is a triumph of fluency and cogency. Judiciously cut to one hour and fifty minutes, it presents itself as a dream within a dream. Most productions I’ve seen have established clean, partisan lines between the worlds of the actors and the characters, evidently to concretize the rather abstruse core debate between the Father and Director. Demarcy-Mota, by contrast, invests both worlds with a quality of deep theatrical joy and inventiveness, which keeps us from judging either side superior to the other at any point and also sets conditions for beautifully elegant and moving stage effects (most involving nothing more elaborate than, say, billowing sheets and manipulations of a rolling platform unit). The wisdom of all this is self-evident: it provides durable suspense and gives the audience reason to care about all the characters and actors and all the open questions until the very end.
Anyone interested in, or even curious about, this difficult but indispensable work should somehow finagle a ticket to this short run at BAM. No better opportunity to see it done so lovingly and perceptively is likely to arise soon.