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Pablo Picasso, father of cubism and pioneer of neo-expressionism, immortal in his fame, once said, “Everything you can imagine is real”. To the layperson, Picasso’s notion may smack of enigmatic evasiveness; the transcendence of reality is not easy to conceptualize. To playwright Luigi Pirandello, however, these words are representative of an absolute truth. In his play, Six Characters in Search of an Author, Pirandello tests this relationship between fiction and reality using the ‘Verismo’ style of writing. There is a thin line drawn between the six characters, who acknowledge themselves as such, purely creations of the writer, and the ‘actors’, not meant to be characters at all but instead a representation of actuality, of true people easily confused with those seated in the audience. And while it is true that everyone depicted within the play is intrinsically a character of Pirandello’s, these characters are separated into two distinct groups: those representative of characters and those representative of true people. In attempting to differentiate these two groups, Pirandello gives the Characters masks, so that their singularity of emotion and individual objectives are visible throughout the play. He also portrays the actors and those associated with the actors as being very tangible representations of true people; due to the nature of ‘Verismo’ writing, the audience is meant to become genuinely confused at the presence of ‘true people’ on the stage, a space traditionally reserved for the progression of fictive events. However, over the course of the play it becomes increasingly apparent that, despite attempts to separate the two groups, everyone depicted in the play falls under Pirandello’s definition of a Character: one with an “immutable reality” (Pirandello, 61). As the tragedy unfolds, the lines between characters and actors, between fiction and reality, become blurred. Though it appears that Pirandello has taken great pains to separate the representations of what is real from the representations of what is not, the separate depictions of the actors and Characters and the subsequent mixing of roles reveal a sub-textual commentary on the false nature of all those portrayed within the play, whether fictive or real, and the implications of this notion of falsity in regards to human nature.
In the beginning of the work, a foundation is laid to allow the audience to view the distinguishing qualities of the Characters throughout the play; this work has often been interpreted as Pirandello’s attempt to reveal the characteristics essential to the character. However, it is my impression that he defines the character in such depth in order to question the characteristics essential to the actual person. The contrast in the primary depictions of the Characters and actors creates a juxtaposition of fiction and reality that is called into question later in the work.
From the first time the Characters appear on stage, they are depicted as physically and internally separate from actual people. As the Character of the Father puts it, they are “more alive than those who breathe and wear clothes! Less real, perhaps; but more true!” (12). Though these Characters are ‘alive’, they are not alive in the same sense as the actual person; unlike real people, the Characters have no freedom of choice and are therefore condemned to the perpetual repetition of a single reality. This limitation is portrayed in the Characters’ conversations with the actors, and the use of masks and character descriptions within the text.
The actors, however, are portrayed as a representation of reality; nothing of their basic descriptions or actions would lead the audience to believe that they are anything other than accurate representations of Pirandello’s time. The clothes, the set, the casual dialogue and the seeming spontaneity of their actions give every impression of a quotidian reality. However, an undeniable stereotypic quality becomes increasingly apparent with the progression of the work. From practically the first scene, the Director is the epitome of serious theatrical management: authoritative, frustrated and demanding. Even more extreme is the depiction of the Leading Lady, the manifestation of haughtiness, conceit, and self- importance. This contradiction of reality and impracticality is noteworthy; though it does not change the fact that the actors are representative of actual people, the inconsistency that is established soon becomes an important theme throughout the play.
Though the Characters and actors are initially portrayed as contrasting representations of fiction and reality, their roles begin to mix as the story progresses, purpose and objective are confused between the two categories, and the concept of free will is called into question. First, there is the fundamental problem of the established roles; the fact that both the Characters and the actors are all essentially characters of Pirandello’s, and that all the characters (Characters and actors) are portrayed by actual actors, creates a contradiction to the singularity of objective established earlier in the play. Also, the Characters begin to take on ‘real’ qualities as the actors become increasingly one-faceted, a trait originally reserved for the fictive Characters. This confusion of roles, of fiction and reality, finally reveals the false nature of all the characters and actors portrayed in Pirandello’s work.
When the Characters first enter the piece, they not only have individual objectives, but also a collective objective; they must find an author. Here begins the mixing of roles. The director is the first called upon to exchange his stereotypical authoritative role for one with greater creative significance, that of the author. The next group called upon to exchange their roles is the Characters; the author/director, still demanding, orders them to take the stage and rehearse their story, and so the Characters become their own actors. Meanwhile, the actors are studying the Characters so that they may take over their roles and become Characters on the stage. However, when the roles are reverted back to their original state, no one is satisfied to play the part they were originally intended, and only the actors remain constant in their singularity of objective. The Characters refuse to accept the actors’ interpretation of their story; as the Stepdaughter exclaims, “I want to play my drama. Mine!” (53). The director, also, leaves his role again to approach the stage as an actor and demonstrate the proper reenactment of the story. It is only the actors that remain completely constant in their stereotype and in their singular objective to act. Through this transcendence of roles, it not only becomes apparent that the line between fiction and reality is perhaps not as clear as it originally seemed, but also that the actors become more like characters than the Characters themselves.
As the Characters become more persistent in their desire to have control over their story and its actualization, the actors begin to seem less like representations of the actual and more like fictive characters. In fact, by the end of the play, it is not the Characters that have what the Father calls an “immutable reality” (61), but the actors. The Characters leave changed, there are two less Characters among them once the play has been completed. The actors, however, leave the same as they began, with the director declaring the day “lost” (73) and agreeing that they will continue their rehearsals the next day as though nothing significant had passed over the course of the play. Though the Father tells the Director that the difference between the two of them is that the Director’s “reality can change overnight” (61), his reality does not change overnight, he will continue his life as though nothing has changed, as though he lives in an immutable reality, the life of a character.
Perhaps it would be prudent of the reader to look not at the lines drawn between fiction and reality, but of the mixing of the two. If at the end of the play, the actors, the representation of actuality, seem more to be representations of fiction, what does that say about actual people? Perhaps Pirandello is actually commenting on the extent to which all ‘actual people’ are born as characters. Maybe we are all overly occupied with waiting for an author, an actor, a stage; perhaps the falsification of all the characters is meant to show that there is no author, no stage, no one else to play our roles for us. Perhaps this play is truly a statement about people who do not take advantage of there free will, but instead live an immutable reality, stuck in the same job, the same role day in and day out. And so I propose we heed Pirandello’s advice; it is time to stop searching for an author, and write our own plays.
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