‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’ at WSC Avant Bard by Francine Schwartz

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Nobel Prize-winning playwright Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author opened WSC Avant Bard’s new season. The theatre is located in the Arisphere, in downtown Roslyn – two blocks from the metro and across the river from Georgetown.

Left to Right: Jon Jon Johnson, Brian Hemmingsen, Emily Ocasio, Nanna Ingvarsson, and Sebastian Ingvarsson-Hemmingsen. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

This is a classic existential work, which created an uproar when first produced, challenging the naturalistic assumptions of the theater. The ambiguity of reality is played out in a play-within-a-play, with a group of actors and a much more vibrant group of “characters,” who are in search of an author to allow them to “be heard.” The characters, part of a family, claim that they are more “real” than the actors who eventually want to portray them, and so they appear to us, the audience. Pirandello allows different versions of events to be presented but never suggests which might be more near the “truth.” If you enjoyed Being John Malkovich you will love this play.

Here’s a taste: In Act I the Father says, “We all have a world of things inside ourselves and each one of us has his own private world. How can we understand each other if the words I use have the sense and the value that I expect them to have, but whoever is listening to me inevitably thinks that those same words have a different sense and value, because of the private world he has inside himself too. We think we understand each other; but we never do. Look! All my pity, all my compassion for this woman (Pointing to the Mother) she sees as ferocious cruelty.”

The Father (Brian Hemmingsen) is the leading spokesman for the six “characters,” and the one most intensely struggling to be understood. The Stepdaughter (Sara Barker) and the Father, according to Pirandello are the “most eager to live” and the “most fully conscious of being characters, as well as the “most intensely alive. The Mother (Nanna Ingvarsson) is “not aware of being a character…not even for a single moment, detached from her ‘part.” Madame Pace (Liz Dutton)” must play her part as a caricature, with bizarre makeup, outlandish wig and garish clothing. The “characters” are passionate, displaying resentment, shame, grief and despair. Meanwhile the actors have limited lines, ironic points of view, and have none of the memorable qualities of the “characters.” Tom Prewitt (Director) has effectively staged this surreal story (and sometimes confusing dialogue) in a way that encourages the audience to persist and for 90 minutes, I was fully immersed in the production.

Foreground: Sara Barker and Brian Hemmingsen; Background: Jon Jon Johnson. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

The casting is a family affair as Brian Hemmingsen (“Father”) and Nanna Ingvarsson (“Mother”) perform alongside their real-life son, Sebastian Ingvarsson-Hemmingsen, who plays the young “Boy.” Hemmingsen displays a wide range of affect as a man alternatively self-confident, guilt-ridden, and ashamed. Sara Barker plays the “Stepdaughter” with tremendous rage, indignation, and anger. Nanna Ingvarsson is powerful and heart-breaking as the discarded and mourning Mother. All our attention goes to her whenever she is on the stage.Joshua Dick plays the “Son,” who adamantly doesn’t want to be there. Jon Jon Johnson not only plays the “Stage Manager,” but he is also the production’s Assistant Stage Manager. Bruce Alan Rauscher plays the frustrated Director with great energy.

Colin Ranney’s set is a plywood construction congruent with the rehearsal with which we are first shown. It is minimal but effective and communicates the preminary nature of the work. Jason Aufdem-Brinke (Light Designer), Lynly Saunders (Costume Designer), and Kristen Pilgrim (Props Designer) collaborated with Ranney on the design.

Front: Emily Ocasio; Left to Right: Anne Nottage, Bruce Alan Rauscher, Sebastian Ingvarsson-Hemmingsen, Anna Lathrop, Brian Hemmingsen, Andrew Ferlo, and Jim Epstein. Back: Joshua Dick. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

WSC Avant Bard’s Six Characters in Search of an Author is ensemble work at its best. Director Tom Prewitt receives top-notch performances from each one of his actors.

Running Time: One hour and 30 minutes.

Six Characters in Search of an Author plays through December 9, 2012 at WSC Avant Bard at Artisphere – 1101 Wilson Blvd in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 418-4808, or purchase them online. There is free validated parking available.