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Unfinished characters leave way for unfinished dialogue

By Laura Traister
On March 2, 2014

The ETSU Division of Theatre and Dance's performance of Luigi Pirandello's classic play "Six Characters in Search of an Author" was a difficult play to sit through, but one that challenged assumptions and prompted reflection.
For those familiar with the original translation from Italian, this performance was a bit of a surprise, as the script used the much more modern translation by Robert Brustein.
Further changes were also made to include regional references.
The play ran from Thursday through Sunday in the Bud Frank Theatre and was directed by Herb Parker.
The play opens as a group of actors, along with the stage manager, stagehand and director, are preparing to start the night's rehearsal of "Hamlet."
After a while, they are interrupted by the appearance of six people who call themselves characters. They explain that they are unfinished characters abandoned by their author and demand to be allowed to tell their story.
Confusion and tension ensues, but eventually the director allows the characters to tell their story, which includes a heavy dose of family strife, resentment and tragedy.
For audience members, the lines between reality and performance were blurred.
As the audience gradually filled the theatre, the stage was set up like a rehearsal stage. The house lights were left on for almost the entire show.
The students who played the actors rehearsing "Hamlet" called each other by their real names and seemed to be interacting as they usually did in real life.
Changes to the script were made to include inside jokes and regional references, such as the mention of Jonesborough and Ruby Falls.
The six characters had an otherworldly appearance thanks to impressive costuming and makeup.
When they first entered, appearing suddenly in the aisles and making their way to the stage, their pale makeup and old-fashioned black clothing immediately set them apart from the other cast members on stage.
Throughout the play, all the actors used the stage and the entire theatre in unusual ways. The lack of boundaries between performers and viewers added to the audience's feeling that they were perhaps watching a real-life scenario rather than a performance.
The play was lengthy and at times hard to follow due to the complicated backstory of the six characters. At times it got dull since there was little action and mostly just dialogue, some of which was repetitive.
However, the play was still successful because of the superb acting.
The actors playing the six characters delved into their respective roles, whether as a mad woman, a grieving mother or a crushed child. The actors in the roles of actors provided a realistic contrast to the characters as well as some much-needed comic relief.
Josh Holley and Brock Cooley in the roles of the father and the director respectively, stood out for their subtle but remarkable acting.
Holley's quiet intensity was unnerving, and Cooley was entirely believable as the alternately frustrated and enthusiastic director.
Overall, the play was not as entertaining as it was thought provoking.
Audience members were not likely to leave with high spirits or fond memories of an inspirational story.
Rather, the play delved into the darker side of life and challenged our assumptions of what is real.
Weighty and difficult themes such as prostitution, suicide and incest appeared in the play.
Several of the characters were fascinating but despicable and grotesque, and the ending was downright disturbing.
It was not a particularly pretty or entertaining show, but "Six Characters in Search of an Author" did provoke emotion and prompt reflection, as art is supposed to do.

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