Review: Players' Theatre's "Six Characters In Search of An Author"

It is Monday night, and a performance is underway. Not just the performance that I am watching, from my viewpoint in the small, darkened amphitheater that borders the theater room, as an attendee of the Players' Theatre press preview of Six Characters In Search of an Author. There is actually a rehearsal taking place on the minimalist stage. Actors begin to filter in; a dialogue of conversations flows idly between the cast. The Director barks orders to the Props Master, two Actors exchange tips for wooing the Leading Lady, a whisk is declared missing from the props table. They are a troupe of Actors rehearsing their own play - one penned by a playwright by the name of Luigi Pirandello- and they are the performers within the performance. It soon becomes evident, as the unusual story continues to unfold, that this is only the first of many challenges to traditional theater that Six Characters offers its audience.

The plot is set into motion by the arrival of a huddled, eerie family of Characters, clad in mourning garb and beautifully-designed masks (courtesy of Sarah Denis) that give their faces fixed expressions of pain, anger, and grief. They come to the Director in search of an author to finish their familial drama and provide a conclusion to their tragedies. As the Characters put on a show that is their only reality ("The script is within us!"), the Actors meld with the audience and let the Characters take center stage. They scream, they wail, they seethe, all with a certain rawness that speaks of the unfinished and the exaggerated - as characters tend to be. Here we see a few stand-out performances emerge: in the tortured conscience of the morally-divisive Father (the attention-commanding Nicholas LePage), the long-suffering rage of the wronged Stepdaughter (played to tempestous perfection by Mars Zaslavsky), and the merciless resentment of the Son (the excellently cold-blooded Oskar Flemer, whose pivotal scene in the second act delivers one of the most satisfying outbursts of the show). Near the end, the unravelling composure of the Director (the enigmatic Leo DiCaprio look-alike Mal Cleary), progresses alongside the plot towards its eruptive conclusion.
 
But beyond these notable portrayals, the play is carried by the strength of the ensemble cast. The performers pace around each other like caged animals one moment, only to freeze like puppets hoisted up by invisible strings the next. The Actors provide a human contrast to the "invented" manifestations they are meant to embody in their work. The staging is near-bare with only the use of a few pieces of furniture and some on-stage screens, but it effectively transitions between several different atmospheres that, nevertheless, never shake the unnerving tension that slowly invades the room over the course of the two hour run-time. But most unsettling, and effective, are the questions the play raises with its viewers. It will be particularly resonant with those who have ever had a hand in the creative process: whether it be writing, acting, painting or just daydreaming within your own imagination. Do we really have the authority to decide what is illusion and what is reality? Does the author hold a certain responsibility to the lives he creates on paper? Additionally, it is not only the artists in the audience who will walk away with things to think about; as the Players' Theatre troupe has expressed, the play aims to "explore what it means to be a self on life's stage," and to what extent we, ourselves, have control over our own characters and realities.
 
Debut director Anna Gordon explains that the work was labor-intensive and entirely consuming, but she believes the end result to be worth the toil. Her passion for the play is obvious as she talks about the process of reformatting and translating the original script, as well as adding in some improv and ad-libbing, which allowed room for a potential feminist commentary within their performance. This can be seen most definitively through treatment of the Stepdaughter, whose anger and pain are not sidelined to excuse the repentant Father's guilt. Though he insists she only exists to be his moral crucifix, the Stepdaughter refuses to have the importance of her narrative diminished.
 
"We wanted to give more salience to her side of the story, despite the clear privileging of the Father and his moral dilemma," assures Anna, "This is especially important in a society where women are silenced every day." The voices of women are in need of being heard, both in fiction and in reality, and the Players' Theatre version of Six Characters does not shy away from that.

Six Characters In Search of An Author premieres on Wednesday, November 12th at 8:00 pm. The cost of tickets is $6 for students/seniors, $10 for adults; reserves can be made by contacting [email protected]. For more information about this production, check out the Facebook event, and to learn more about the remainder of the Players' Theatre 2013-2014 season, you can visit their webpage at http://playerstheatre.ca. 

Images obtained from:

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