Six Characters in Search of an Author set the foundation for much larger gains in theatre. Its 1921 premier caused an outrage, but the classic play leaves modern audiences scratching their heads. The broken morals that so outraged audiences in the 1920 have been washed away by the liberation of the 1960’s and the way in which sex is talked about is so foreign that the audience will even struggle to grasp at the meaning. On top of that, we have become desensitized by our news media. Watch the evening news for a week and you will hear stories of child rape and school shootings. This violence against children that Pirandello used to be sensationalist has become common place.
His debate on the reality of theatre has been echoed in a dozen different plays since then. It is not that the debate is irrelevant in today’s theatre, but the questions have been overshadowed by the advent of digital entertainment devices and computers. The question isn’t whether or not a character on the stage is more real than a living human being, but who is more real a person’s online profile (consisting of their email address, their Facebook login, their Amazon shopping account, and their surfing habits) or the person sitting at the keyboard controlling all of this. Just as a computer is one point in a greater web of other computers and information, a person is simply the controlling function on an individual that lives in digital space.
Promethean Theatre’s production helped realize some of this. It played to a predominately older audience – older that Promethean is used to. The older the person, the more they were compelled by the piece and the more they were outraged at the sexual escapades of the Father character. Younger audiences were left confused. While they could sense that there was something compelling going on, they weren’t quite sure what as they were unable to relate to the morals that the play lives by.
Many people had studied the play in college in a liberal arts course on drama and many of those people did not understand the play when they initially read it. They were very excited at how alive the play became when they saw it performed. The play obviously still has potential stage life for people to have that much of a strong reaction to seeing it performed.
One thing that also came up a lot was a comparison to The Laramie Project’s and its style of documentary theatre. Rather than telling a story, this play draws on interviews conducted by the actors with the participants in the killing of Matthew Shepard and then strives to recreate the actual people on stage. If you want a debate over how reality is portrayed onstage, this is it. Pirandello’s play becomes pure theory because The Laramie Project puts it into practice. Once you add film into the mix, the debate grows further. If you can go and film the interviews with the actual people, why do we need actors to portray them onstage?
Happy Birthday: Tony Kushner