Six Characters in Search of an Author

For anyone who loves theater, this groundbreaking 1921 work by Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello belongs to the cannon of Most Original and Influential Plays of the twentieth century. As a director’s program note to WSC Avant Bard’s fresh and delightful production puts it: “Before Six Characters in Search of an Author, Spike Jonze could not have conceived Being John Malkovich.” And the list could easily go on—Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead and Shakespeare in Love, Kenneth Brannagh’s A Midwinter’s Tale (aka In the Bleak Midwinter), Alan Bennett’s The Habit of Art…. Just about anything ever written since with a play within a play, any stage experience based on dimensions of reality and illusion, or any metatheater that’s about theater itself owes Six Characters a megadebt.

Though I long ago studied the play, I’d never seen it performed until WSC Avant Bard brought it to life. And what a rewarding pleasure that was. Full of unexpected wit and humor about the rehearsal process, actor and director temperaments, and humble stagecraft, the production functions on one of its multiple levels as an insider homage to playmaking. And you can tell that the actors—directed winningly by Tom Prewitt—are having just as much fun with that conceit as the audience in attendance at their interrupted rehearsal.

The translation, by Carl R. Mueller, is a kick. There’s no dust gathering here; the language feels very today. And the production design evokes fondly a sort of everytheater within a theater.

If you’ve never seen this germinal gem, now’s your chance  (through December 9, 2012, at Artisphere).