Thursday, November 30, 2000
Western Stage''s production of Luigi Pirandello''s Six Characters in Search of an Author is both accessible and amusing. It''s also thought-provoking, thanks to director Jon Patrick Selover''s staging of the dense but playful 1988 Robert Brustein adaptation, which examines the relationship between reality, perception and make believe.
The play opens with a wonderful, momentarily disorienting scene as eight actors portraying thespians and technical crew members appear one-by-one in the fully lighted theater, ostensibly to rehearse a fictitious production of Pirandello''s Enrico VI. As each character enters and greets the others, we get a thumbnail sketch of his or her personality.
Michael Roddy gets a bucket of laughs as the punctually challenged scene-chewer Mike. Daniel Alexander Tarker grabs the heartstrings as the sincere but not-very-bright Dan. Tarker''s diction is sometimes slurred but his interpretation of the lovable airhead elicits both empathy and elation. Bradford Shreve shines as Brad, the lead actor and assistant to the producing director, a man who has been left in charge of the troupe.
Scott W. Harrison and Christopher Gilkey prove to be naturals portraying the stage manager and his assistant, respectively, and Richard Lockie provides some chuckles as a rock ''n'' roll-blaring technician who can''t help but bungle his light cues.
Vonda Harris, as Vonda, of course, exudes fabulous actress-y attitude as she trades quips and gripes with fellow player Janae Burris. Burris, who shows up spilling water on a theater seat and bumping into the other arriving actors as she rushes to clean up the mess, started the night a bit rigid, but quickly warmed up to ensemble work.
The challenge of acting with no visible dividing line between the play and play-within-the-play is a daunting one, but this collection of actors pulls it off. The set, designed by Christopher Acebo, comfortably conveys the unpolished dual-reality rehearsal tone. A sloping black and white checkered platform serves as a stage, separating the dramatic action from "reality" as we watch both coexist before us.
The rehearsal is interrupted by six characters garbed in old-fashioned clothing, who tear through the scenery and appear on the stage, and "our" actors react with irritation. Just as the plot begins its surreal turn, we are reeled back in to the present-day setting by Brad''s observation that "They would never put up with this on main stage." Scott even asks whether he should call campus security. The play is sprinkled throughout with similar references to real people and local venues. These references serve as comic relief for the philosophic dialogue, and also as a reminder of Pirandello''s game, as he forces us to continually consider various levels of pretense, extending his examination of character and actor to our own examination of our role as audience member.
As father of the group''s interloping characters, Jeffrey T. Heyer, whose performance is intense and moving throughout, explains that the six characters have been abandoned by their author. Challenging the father''s account is the stepdaughter, played by Jodi Dick. Dick displays her range of emotion and also the limitations of her character when it is explained that each character lives infinitely in the moment in which he or she was abandoned. Joyce McGreevy is wonderful as the mother, whose visible tears and tortured cry come alive to make us almost ashamed of watching such human anguish.
Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello, translated by Robert Brustein. Directed by Jon Patrick Selover. Runs through December 3. The Western Stage Studio Theater, Hartnell College, 156 Homestead, Salinas. For tickets call 755-6818 (from Monterey 375-2111). $15/general; $13/students, seniors and military; $12/Hartnell faculty; $10/children.