Though it took Luigi Pirandello fifty years to write his first play, he began exploring experimental writing in his other works. In the collection of
short stories entitled The Oil Jar and Other Stories, one can see how he progresses toward a more abstract style, but
even in his earlier works, reality, and how it is perceived by his various characters seems to be an important theme in his writing. In 1911, he wrote A Character's Tragedy, where he states
that for three hours every Sunday morning he gives audience to the characters he has created so they may voice their opinions. But it took him until 1921 to
write a play upon that theme, combined with the question of reality and how it is perceived.
The play begins as a group of Actors, a Director, and other theater tech people are beginning a rehearsal of a Pirandello comedy. They are interrupted as five people suddenly show up: The Father, The Mother, The Step-Daughter, The Son, a boy and a child. They explain that they are characters that were created, but their author died before the piece was finished. So they come in search of an author.
The Director and the other Actors of course think they are nuts and try to get them to leave, but they persist in telling their story. The Mother and Father were married and had The Son, but the Mother went to live with another man, with the Father's approval. The Step-Daughter was born with the other man, and the Father used to watch her as she came out of school. The Step-Daughter figured out who he was. Then the Father lost touch. A boy and another girl were born, then the man died. The Mother brought her three other children back home to The Father. They wear black because they are in mourning. But meanwhile, the Father had tried to pay the Step-Daughter for sex at Madame Pace's establishment, pretending he did not know who she was. The Son, the legitimate son, had been sent away, but now he is back, and he hates everybody. The Step-Daughter is aggressive, while The Mother is quiet and filled with remorse. The Father wants to explain everything from his point of view. The boy and child cannot speak.
Gradually, they convince the Director to give them a try. They need a script put down in words. He agrees, but they are then shocked that it is the Actors who will be playing them, not themselves. The Characters are picky about details, and mock the way the Actors portray them.
Here is where the perceptions of reality become distorted. The Director says their drama must be played by Actors, and the Characters are not Actors. What he doesn't understand is that they are not people either; they are Characters created by an author who left them unfinished, and they are stuck in the drama, forever. They know the beginning and the end of what has already been decided, and it keeps playing itself out. The Actors and Director begin to understand this just a little better when Madame Pace shows up out of nowhere. The child drowns herself, and the boy shoots himself. Then they all leave and the Director is mad because he has wasted a whole day!
This is classified as an "Intellectual Comedy." It certainly may also be classified as avant-garde! I would love to see it performed live because there are so many opportunities for improvisation and freshness with each performance.
It is a very short play which can be read quickly once through, and would benefit by a second, slower reading.
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