Director and Cast at UWS Rise to the Challenge of Six Characters
Paul Brissett, Duluth News Tribune
November 11, 2011
UWS Theatre’s production of Six Characters in Search of an Author succeeds despite its unique and complex plot and often-turgid dialogue on the strength of Mark Spitzer’s smart, sharp direction and some fine acting.
Spitzer has optimized Luigi Pirandello’s concept of a play in rehearsal by having the earliest-arriving audience members greeted by workers constructing a set. As the Actors are given a break, the audience gets an intermission, still returning as the Director is calling his company back to work.
Spitzer also has demanded a swift flow to a very talky script. Indeed, savory-sounding nuggets of dialogue fly so thick and fast that there’s no time to sample, much less chew and digest, more than a few.
Pirandello has the rehearsal interrupted by six characters, created by an author who then failed to write a story for them. The Director (Andrew Kirov) first tries to throw the intruders out, but is ultimately persuaded by The Father (Kyle Olson) to stage the Characters’ story.
The Characters’ backstory is threaded through a long exchange between the Director and The Father — a dizzying mélange of mysterious allusions and dense philosophical abstractions, with pregnant interjections by The Stepdaughter (Maxey Mitchell), The Mother (Meghan O’Toole-Gott) and The Son (Daniel Harte). It’s a story of adultery and prostitution, with hints of child molestation.
The exchange would be mind-numbing but for the passion with which Kirov and Olson carry it out. Indeed, it is to these two that most of the play’s heavy lifting is assigned, with Mitchell carrying only a slightly smaller load.
Kirov’s Director is arrogant, abrupt and tightly focused. Olson manages to hold our attention despite at times appearing not to know what his point — his objective — is.
Throughout, there is a distinct tension among the Characters, but it’s difficult to understand its exact nature because each seems to have a distinctly different version of the tale to tell.
Once The Father has relinquished center stage, having captured the Director’s interest, The Stepdaughter moves to the fore, which she holds — though sometimes shares — for the rest of the play. Mitchell exhibits an impressive range in the role, from an inexplicably intense hatred of The Father to a naive and embarrassed young woman and later to a woman torn by horrid memories.
The other performers — actors and crew members — are exceptionally good, especially when one considers Spitzer had to assemble a cast of 22 (plus one small white dog, Molly Mae Dixon-Obst [Cupcake]) from a relatively small pool.
By definition they are in supporting roles and only two — the Leading Lady (Hannah Fiedler) and the Leading Man (Stepan Ianchuk) have any chance to show their stuff. But all are consistently involved in the action and fully convincing.
One of the most intriguing and equally confusing plays in the Twin Ports, Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author took the audience on an adventure even before they realized the performance had begun.
The stage proved to be full of life prior to the start time; what looked like carpenters and stage managers roamed the area with tools and supplies, banging one against the other in attempts to construct what seemed like the scene. Just when audience members conceived these folks were prepping for the opening act, lights in the theatre dimmed, signaling the start of the performance. With these characters still on stage, one inevitably began to wonder if they were indeed part of the show.
Before there was enough time to mull it over, a seemingly authoritative voice started to demand things from just below the front of the stage area. It became clear that this figure was the director, and that the people exposed on stage were in fact actors preparing for a rehearsal.
Just when the audience thought they’d grasped what was happening, a group of folks, dressed as if they’d just come from a funeral, entered the scene with a demanding manner. The audience thought they’d been on a wild ride, but this is where the road really begun. These six additional characters brought with them a narrative to share and mystify all. After a few minutes of one-sided negotiations, the head of these six convinced the director to listen to their story, as they were in desperate need of an author.
The scenes that followed were reminiscent of a dream, growing in complexity with each ticking second. Finally, the audience had discovered they were witnessing a play within another play, perplexed and perhaps annoyed by the idea, but at a loss for what to do; and as the director dismissed his actors, the actual show finds its intermission. The play carried on, only to prompt more questions rather than providing answers, all the way up to the last seconds.
This presentation demonstrated a most prolific work that deserved a lifetime of homage. It was quite the intellectual challenge for the average play attendee, but with caution and meticulous nature, one could take apart this story piece by piece to bask in its inherent brilliance. The vigilant work of the actual director, Mark Spitzer, was noted on the tongue of every actor, as they performed Spitzer’s rework of Pirandello’s masterpiece like an orchestra performs a grand piece, very carefully yet unnoticeably stream-like. The actor who played director on stage, Andrew Kirov, did a similarly splendid job of convincing the audience to willingly suspend their disbelief. By performing his role with ease, Kirov took hold of the wheel in a purportedly benign vehicle, which in turn dove off a nearly invisible cliff.
It baffled the audience to conceive of a work like this, to conceive that it might’ve been planned in this way exactly, but one can be certain that this is what high-quality writing can express. Despite its slow start, Six Characters in Search of an Author painted a picture like no other, and gave way to an abstraction, which left the audience wanting more. Whether or not one enjoys theatre, this one is worth the time and the apprehension
This page contains a single entry by Mark Harvey published on November 11, 2011 9:40 AM.
Cosi fan tutte - UMD Opera was the previous entry in this blog.
A Christmas Carol - The Guthrie Theatre is the next entry in this blog.
Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.