Characters, comedy and contemplation

Six Characters in Search of an Author (heartBeast Theatre)

Spring Hill Reservoirs

April 15 – 29

Spring Hill’s underground reservoir is the perfect venue for an intimate theatrical production. In the case of heartBeast’s “Six Characters in Search of an Author” it is an intimacy initially disrupted by the sounds of steps on the scaffolded stair entry to the almost 150 year old venue. This is, in actuality, entirely suited to the show’s deliberately haphazard introduction, which sees The Director, (Jaqueline Kerr), for characters are known by roles rather than names, attempting to rally her cast for a rehearsal of a Pirandello play.

Before the rehearsal has begun in any real way, the group is unexpectedly interrupted by the arrival of six grim, mysterious figures, members of one dysfunctional family demanding that their tragic story needs to be heard and told as a play, as if to provide it with completion. They are not people as such but rather characters, cast off of an unknown author’s imagination left to linger as theatrical ghosts and as they skulk towards the stage in a huddle of mourning black, the effect is quite frightful, particularly for those audience members beside whom they silently appear.

6 characters.jpg

What follows in Italian Nobel Prize winner Luigi Pirandello’s seminal theatrical work is a confusing and disturbing story that hinges on The Father’s (Gregory J Wilken)  and Mother’s (Eleonora Ginardi) separation and his, as he proclaims, unwitting, seduction many years later of The Stepdaughter (Jane Schon) before realisation from The Mother. More than just complicated story, however, the absurdist play is an exploration of the world of theatre and contemplation of the nature of drama (is it about words or actions?) Indeed, Act One, in particular is filled with philosophical proclamations, primarily from The Father, in consideration of the relationship between authors, their characters and audience members.

The action increases ahead of the final act’s abrupt ending as the company of actors attempt to bring the character’s tale to theatrical life. There are many satisfying comic moments, often coming from the fourth wall breaks to share the frustrations from within the tension; the fiction figures are not at all happy to be told that their story doesn’t suit ‘drama’ and are resentful of the actors’ interpretation of their never-changing, always-agonising story.

Like a narrator of sorts, Wilken plays The Father with an engaging authority. Part passionate self, part pontificator, he delivers bold statements for contemplation about words and illusions, presenting the audience with many interesting analogies upon which to ponder (such as truth being like a sack). As complement, Schon plays the feisty The Stepdaughter to perfection and Ginardi shows subtlety and nuance in her portrayal of The Mother’s guilt and grief.

Lighting is at times luscious but also often conspicuous in its transitions.  And although the use of mirrors in the corners of the small, square stage area allows for expanded exposure, better blocking during initial scenes could ensure exploitation of all the possibilities created, so that the crowding caused by superfluous characters does not serve as audience distraction.

“Six Characters in Search of an Author” is a dark examination of the differences between reality and illusion. Its meta-theatrical nature makes its material challenging but also rewarding, if audiences are willing to go along with its slow burn approach.

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