They look as if they could be refugees from The Addams Family, dressed in black and standing under ghoulish white light in the middle of the stage at BAM’s Harvey Theater, these six characters in search of an author, but there is nothing funny about them. They have interrupted the director of the play-within-the-play (slyly, Pirandello’s “The Rules of the Game”) and demand – no, beg him – to tell their story.
The story they tell could easily come off as melodramatic and convoluted. But, as presented in the superbly acted and visually arresting production by the Parisian theater company Théâtre de la Ville through November 2 as part of BAM’s Next Wave Festival, their tale is moving, shocking — even while the absurd reaction of the theater company, and their attempts to perform the characters’ story, are equal parts amusing and provocative.
What’s most shocking about Luigi Pirandello’s “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” is that it was written and produced in 1921, decades before Beckett or Albee. Winner of the 1934 Nobel Prize in Literature for his plays two years before he died, Luigi Pirandello seems more often studied these days than performed. This is why this “Six Characters in Search of An Author” is such a treat, even though it is translated from the Italian to the French (with English subtitles), and lasts nearly two hours without an intermission – creating in at least one theatergoer a brief sag in attention, before the theatrically riveting climax.
In a season rife with trivial, self-promoting or score-settling theater about theater, it is refreshing to see such a work that attempts to explore seriously, albeit not always clearly, the conflicts of modern life and art.