Saturday, January 28, 2012

Six Characters in Search of an Author and Other Plays - Luigi Pirandello

Luigi Pirandello, Italian Play-wright was in the fore front in establishing the direction of 20th century drama and theater. To many one of the initial practitioner of the 'modernism' in literature and a strong leader of the 'absurdist' plays. Winner of the nobel Prize in 1924, pretty son after two of his most reputed and celebrated plays were written and staged in 1921. Haven't read none of his works earlier, this compilation of the-most-known plays of Luigi Pirandello was a welcome receipt. I had to make some amends to my rather poor reading of plays in general. Three plays, translated by Mark Musa is compiled in this book. His most famous and controversial "Six Characters in Search of an Author", Henri IV and "So it is (of you think so)" are considered some of his best.

Six Characters..., starts with the the rehearsal of one of Pirandello's play by his theater group with the director leading the artists and the support staff to the stage. Six characters , member of a family literally invade the stage, demanding their story to be taken up and written. The leader of them, the Father, tells the director that their story is unrealised and they need some one to conclude. Intrigued by the scenario, Director give them the chance to narrate. The family story of betray and the complex relationship between father, mother, their son, the second marriage of the mother and her daughter all comes at once to narrate their part of the tale. The act of switching between the characters and the actors who are expected to portray them begin. the reality and the realisation now get entangled, as the characters wanted them to be appropriately portrayed.

Cant you see all the trouble lies here ! In the words ! All of us have a world full of things inside us, each of us his own world of things! How can we understand one another, sir, if in the words I speak I put the meaning and the value of things as I myself see them, while the one who listens inevitably takes them according to the meaning and the value he has in himself of the world he has inside of himself.
The play is more than the structural and theatrical possibility of the extension of the boundaries of the stage. To me it also examines the unknown or unspoken relationship between the characters, the actors who portray them, the theater hands including the director and the audience. In the whole sequence of performance, each owe to play their own parts to perfection.

According to Pirandello, the interpreted meaning of the characters being portrayed on stage has more truth than the character's reality. Its is the realization of the characters through the artist completes their existence.

miracle of a reality that is born, evoked,attracted and formed on the stage itself and which has more right to live here than all of you, because it is much truer than you ?

But for an author, he only have to let the characters do the task of telling the story, he is merely someone who documents what the characters do independently.

When characters are alive, truly alive before their author, he has only to follow them in their words and actions which they precisely suggest to him... When the character is born, he immediately assumes so much independence, even from his own author..
In the theatrical experiment, Six characters has much larger scope of expansion.

Henri IV ( enrico IV ) , looks at the madness of an actor resulted from a fatal fall from the horse. Believing himself to be the 11th century King Henri IV, he was looked after under a closely guarded room, with his relatives imbibing the appropriate characters to match his illusion. Having spent 20 years thus, his family is trying to revive him and bring him back to normalcy, with the help of a doctor. As the scene progresses, it become unclear to the readers and audience, on who is insane. Henri IV, declares to his helpers that he is indeed sane, and he is getting the rest to act to his will by behaving this way and he believe it is better to act insane in the 20th century and live in the world created by him, than to live among the others who believe themselves to be sane.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, I am cured because I know how to play the part of the madman to perfection, right here; and I do it quietly. The trouble with you is that you live in your own madness with such agitation that you do not even know of see it !
The subject is very interesting and can be interpreted and modelled to the time and place of its stage. Once you are prepared to play the role of insane, the rest appears to be in your control. It is you who decide the roles and actions of those around you. So, for the 'Henri IV' , he prefer to remain insane, even after he reveal his true nature to his assistants. Now, the true nature is known, he goes back to the role he chose for himself. I find this idea brilliant and the narrative multi layered and with scope of multiple scope of interpretation and understanding.

So it is, tracks the Ponza family mystery through the prying and curious eyes of the town people. Ponza, moving into the town as a clerk to the Governor , having lost the entire relatives in a natural disaster. He also brings his mother in law to the town and place her in the room in the same compound as his superior. He along with his wife moves into an apartment located in the 9th floor of a nearby building. The rumour spread on the mother and daughter and their relation. According to the gossip, mother and daughter do not meet each other and the son, being the only link between them divides his time between the mother-in-law and his wife. Various theories emerge and the lady folks in town in general are curious. It is now become the responsibility of the authorities to demystify this to the public. The complication starts with the version of mother in law and the Son, both claiming the other to be mentally instable and they are acting this way to keep the other in their current belief. Ponza claims that the lady's daughter, whom he had married, had died long ago and he had married for second time. however, knowing the medical condition of his erstwhile mother-in-law, he wants to keep things as it is with the lady, pretending to be married to her daughter. Bringing them together, can unveil the whole build up thus causing unwanted issue. However, according to the mother-in-law, the illness is to the son, and her daughter and she had planned to this to keep him sane, getting him married to the same women twice. As the listeners are divided in their opinion, convinced with the respective versions, the Governor now get involved to solve the mystery, summoning the wife of Ponza.

Pirandello is a master in extending the possibilities of the stage beyond its construct. Six characters explore this possibility brilliantly. The characters and audience and the behind the stage hands all become part of the experiment. Characters claims that they have an identity and the artists are only trying to portray only part of it. Written almost a century ago, and having seen its imitation in various forms, I thought it still has a freshness that is unique. Henri IV, to me stands much better in terms of its adaptability and interpretation. The often blurred line of sanity and insanity is examined here brilliantly through the character Henri IV. Who is acting sane and who is really insane is becoming subjective to the time, space and the situation. 'So it is' is more dramatic and appears as cheap suspense thriller. It goes through the melodrama , the anti-climax and the reflection on the of the society ( which is not new) in typical theatrical style.

Both Six characters and Henri IV is written after some he had some personal tragedies. His daughter attempted suicide and his wife went insane towards the end of second decade of the 1900s. These personal tragedies supposed to have hugely influenced his creative output during which some of his all time great works are originated. Outstanding..
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Six Characters in Search of an Author and Other Plays ( 1921)

Luigi Pirandello ( translated from Italian by Mark Musa 1995)

Penguin Books

206 Pages
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4 comments:

Miguel said...

Six Characters in Search of an Author is a remarkable play. So many modern playwrights continue to bathe in Pirandello's waters. He opened up many new possibilities for theater, which, I think, authors like Havel, Albee and Beckett have refined.

Jayan Parameswaran said...

You are better placed to comment on this than me.. I recall reading somewhere that you made a similar observation as "Henri IV is a better work that Six Characters.."

The ripples of Pirandello's influence can be seen in many modern play wrights..

Miguel said...

I think the dramatic situation in Henry IV is more interesting and has been more influential. "Six Characters" is revolutionary but it's hard to follow.

The blurring of artifice and reality is a staple of theatre now, in part thanks to Pirandello. Also his histrionic protagonist can be found, in a different form, in Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist.

Jayan Parameswaran said...

Dario Fo is next in my list. I haven't read any of his plays. I would go with your recommendation...