Six Characters in Search of an Author

By - Nov 10th, 2008 02:52 pm
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By Jenna Raymond

What happens to our thoughts and hopes, and our dreams and personas? They live only as intangible wisps until we act on them, give them flesh or write them down. More often they wither and gasp until we forget them. Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello wrote Six Characters in Search of an Author about the figments of our imaginations. Unlike the fancies we all fabricate and dismiss as asinine, Pirandello lets his characters fight for what they believe is rightfully theirs– completeness.

Pirandello’s play begins with a company of actors rehearsing a play. They are melodramatic and unenthusiastic about the writing. A knock on the stage door brings the intrusion of six people and halts the mundane rehearsal. At first the company believes this group of people has shown up to either pitch a new play or audition. It quickly becomes clear that the six are in a unique situatiion: they can only and ever play exactly the parts that were envisioned for them. Even though it’s rife with pain, the six need their fate to be played out exactly the way their author intended.

Six Characters premiered in 1921. Since then it has often been modified to fit the specific time and place in which it is performed. UWM student Ben Wilson adapted it to contemporary time by using modern phrases and references. Although the play deals with very distressing issues like prostitution, suicide and the death of a young child, Wilson is adept at supplementing Pirandello’s original work. He was able to add humor without mocking the seriousness of the characters.

UWM’s Theatre 508 at 1925 E. Kenilworth Pl. is a wonderful place for young actors to work solely on their craft without bothering with massive sets, intricate lighting or sound. The actors cast in Six Characters in Search of an Author were wholly selfless in their portrayal. Almost all were on stage for the entire duration of the play. A few had no lines at all, or just a few lines, but all were completely immersed into the world created by Pirandello and modified by Wilson and director Jim Tasse. Despite limited dialog, they were all completely present on the stage.

Director Jim Tasse let his large cast of actors come to the truth of their characters on their own. It is obvious that each actor developed through trial and experimentation. Tasse doesn’t force line readings or limits his actors in any way. His direction is all about the actors. Their exploration of character and language is simple, direct and powerful. A less capable director would force certain elements that may or may not end up cohesive. Tasse is adaptable and allows the story to expand and contract as needed in order to be truthful.

Actor Tommy Stevens, playing Father, showed a comprehension and depth of understanding of not only his character but the others as well. His desperate need to get their story out through charm, cajolery and demand was innately human. Callie Eberdt was crisp as Stepdaughter. She was a fountain of wit that could turn into rage in a moment. Eberdt was able to draw out Stevens from his early charm into an almost unbelievable nefarious old man. Max Hultquist as Son played anger and doubt faultlessly. Much of the play he spent off the main playing space, behind the audience, observing his family. Hultquist used the entire show to build hatred for the Son’s parents and also his regret for the culmination of events. Hultquist’s use of resentment and fury early on is justified by his near breakdown as all the characters finally see their story finished.

Surpassing earlier UWM shows this season, Six Characters in Search of an Author showcases UWM’s talent and the dedication and unselfishness of many of its actors. The use of the Kenilworth 508 space is conducive to the goal of developing young actors into professional theatre artists. VS

Six Characters in Search of an Author runs through December 2 at 1925 E Kenilworth Place. For tickets and more information call the box office at 414.229.4308 or visit the website at www.arts.uwm.edu/theatre.

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