Six Characters in Search of an Author: Journey to the theatrical Twilight Zone

John Middleton in Six Characters in Search of an Author.
John Middleton in Six Characters in Search of an Author.
Photo courtesy Alan Berks

For the second time in the last week or so, a local show had me heading home with images of the cult British TV show Sapphire and Steel running through my head. (Short description: Two mysterious agents investigate strange and perplexing incursions into our world by the agents of Time; the show is much, much stranger than that description.)

Like Open Eye Figure Theatre's To the Moon, Six Characters in Search of an Author pulls the curtain away from storytelling expectations and looks deep into the moments that define the characters.
Alan Berks translated and adapted Luigi Pirandello's absurdist classic from the 1920s. His update moves the action from a theatrical rehearsal to the taping of a reality show, The Maze. It's a good conceit, but one where the potential isn't reached. Reality TV is such a rich vein for exploration, especially when it comes to isolating characters and events from story.

On the show, the action is down to the final three. Whatever plans they may have had for the finale get scuttled when half a dozen folks suddenly appear, like ghosts materializing, amid the endless doors of the house. They soon arrive (well, the four adults do; the two young children are represented as silent and still puppets during the main action) and explain their plight. They are characters from an unfinished play.

It's never clear why they've arrived. They want their story to be competed, but resist any attempts by the director to make changes, insisting that none of the actors can truly represent what they feel.

As the play unfolds, we learn more about the incidents that make up the meat of the unfinished play. There's pretty dark stuff here, as hints of abuse, incest, and suicide abound. The characters cannot shake their own darkness, and begin to infect everything that's happening around them.

It's meant to be heady material, and the conversations about the very nature of stories are intriguing. Though there is some playing at the idea that reality shows have stripped away much of our expectations, as they bring along the key dramatic incidents without all that messy build up, that overlay doesn't always work. The Maze characters largely drop away as the story goes on, often doing little more than observing for long stretches.

The company, especially the nameless family, really relish the chances they're given here. John Middleton, who actually would make a pretty good Steel if the show were ever revived, is arresting as the Father, full of the repression of his character and a cold, logical edge when it comes to their shared plight. ShaVunda Horsley (as the Stepdaughter) presents a character who only wants the story to finally be done, while Max Wojtanowicz as the Son has to hide nearly everything inside, except for a few key heartbreaking moments near the end of the play.

It's an intriguing, sometimes slow, and occasionally frustrating experience. In other words, much like the act of creation itself. Nothing ever comes easy in Six Characters in Search of an Author, but the rewards are there if you want to do a bit of probing. Meanwhile, I'm going to muse on that while watching some Sapphire and Steel DVDs.


Six Characters in Search of an Author
Friday through March 24
Gremlin Theatre 
2400 University Ave., St. Paul
For information and tickets, call 888.71-TICKETS or visit online.
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Gremlin Theatre

2400 University Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55114


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