Alan Berks has long been an admirer of Luigi Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author, and was surprised to find an interesting parallel with the absurdist work from the 1920s and modern-day television.
"I was watching reality TV, and it was so much what he was talking about. These characters are put into boxes and play certain types," Berks says.
The Alan Berks & Company production, opening this weekend at the Gremlin Theatre in St. Paul, transposes Pirandello's characters to the set of a hit reality show, The Maze. There, they take over and demand that their stories be completed.
The play "is an incredible dissection of characters, but also a very specific family drama. The structure allows for a highlight reel, where you go directly to the heart of things," Berks says.
All of that should sound familiar to fans of Survivor or Project Runway or any one of a million shows on Bravo and TLC. "It feels like the culture has caught up with Pirandello. He was 90 years ahead of his time. We are so much more aware of the subjectivity of our own perceptions," Berks says. "This creates an interesting challenge."
Berks's company for the show includes John Middleton, Sam Landman, Max Wojtanowicz, Rachel Finch, T. Michael Brown, Joe Wiener, Bryan Porter, Colleen Barrett, Dana Thompson, and Shavunda Horsley.
Though the play is well known, it hasn't seen a local production in at least 20 years. For Berks, it has provided the perfect opportunity to produce a show he has long loved, and to explore some of our modern thoughts on story and character.
"There are so many layers to it. The story has the feel of the quick cuts of a television edit. They keep throwing things at each other in such an emotionally charged way that it has the quality of a television episode," Berks says. "When he wrote it, he was critiquing the theater of his day and the stock characters. Reality television also does that."
Berks has found that his perspective on the play has changed over the years as well. "When I was younger and more philosophically orientated, it was the philosophy that drew me in. Now it is the emotions among the family and that they never can escape from each other. It is the emotional family portrayal that I am loving about it. I don't know if people remember the show that way," he says.
Ultimately, the production aims to honor both the original play and explore the ideas in a modern context.
"I hope it won't make Pirandello roll over in his grave," Berks says.
Six Characters in Search of an Author
2400 University Ave., St. Paul
For information and tickets, call 888.71-TICKETS or visit online