Performed for the first time in 1921, Italy’s Luigi Pirandello’s staging of Six Characters in Search of an Author defies the conventional narrative structure of linear and straightforward characterization through its insistence on self-referencing and ultimately unfinished authorial dictation. The play functions as a satire on the fabricated nature of the theater in an attempt to draw the both the audience and the characters into the discourse of inner and outer action that can be difficult to keep separated.
The inner action of the play utilizes six characters that have the dubious distinction of having to act as if they were both the performers and the audience while also maintaining the division between real life and theatrics. On stage, without a defined director, author, or manager, the six characters are led through a satirical staging of the staging of the play. There are interruptions, unfinished rehearsals, and improvisations that all culminate in what the Manager famously termed a ‘glorious failure.
The inner action of the play meshes with the outer action of ‘reality’ by the play’s insistence on the collusion between the illusion and the reality of the stage. Pirandello effectively calls into question the motives and actions that theater can ask in an attempt to draw parallels between real life and the stories we tell ourselves as we are living it. The two merge in what Pirandello calls the ‘eternal moment’ when we can no longer suspend our disbelief.
As the play progresses, the audience (the reader) is beckoned into the conspiracy and is forced to see the characters for what they are – unfinished and undetermined forces of art, or of life. Pirandello’s function as the author is to show how the play itself is not separate from real life because the inner action of the six characters is no different than the distinctions we project onto them in our relationship with the stage.