A Noise Within revives Luigi Pirandello’s 1921 absurdist classic Six Characters In Search Of An Author with enough exciting theatricality to largely overcome the dated melodrama of the play-within-a-play that its sextet of author-seeking Characters are hoping to see performed.
The production starts off smack-dab in the middle of a “rehearsal” for a supposed 25th-anniversary A Noise Within retrospective, one we’re told will feature scenes from ANW’s Greatest Hits, beginning with the graveyard sequence from Our Town (with Susan Angelo and June Carryl receiving director’s notes from Robertson Dean on their shaky New England accents).
It’s about ten minutes into this pseudo-rehearsal that the titular author-seeking Characters appear out of nowhere with a request: that the assembled actors finish the script their author had abandoned mid-write.
Not surprisingly, “director” Dean, “actors” Abubakr Ali, Angelo, and Carryl, and “stage manager” Natalie Reiko try first to find a logical explanation for their uninvited guests.
After a while, however, it becomes clear that Mother, Father, Son, Stepdaughter, Young Son, and Young Daughter are indeed who they say they are, characters who refused to just give up and die.
The conversations that ensue over the course of Six Characters’ intermissionless eighty minutes are thought-provoking indeed, raising questions of what is real and what is illusory when a playwright puts pen to paper and creates characters who end up viewed through the filter of the actors who portray them, and with A Noise Within regulars playing “themselves” and other Noise Withiners playing Characters seeking actors to portray them, the mind can’t help but boggle at just how meta this all is.
Directors Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott have opted, not for a literal translation from the Italian, but instead for Robert Brustein’s 1996 American Repertory Theatre adaptation, tweaked here to fit A Noise Within, a script which expands the role of the play’s “real-life” actors to mind-blowing effect.
Local references to Pasadena Playhouse budgets (they’re bigger than A Noise Within’s), the Theatre @ Boston Court’s penchant for doing new works, and Deborah Strang’s 1993 performance as the Stage Manager in ANW’s revival of Our Town make it both easy and amusing for an audience to believe it’s eavesdropping on a rehearsal in progress.
If only Brustein had taken things a bit further by updating and refining the six Characters’ potboiler of a Pirandello plot (the wife took a lover, got thrown out of the house, gave birth to three illegitimate children, one of whom attracted her step-father’s incestuous eye, etc.) and dialog that sounds stilted to today’s ears, the A Noise Within revival might hit an absolute bulls-eye.
Still, Elliott (The Father), Abby Craden (The Mother), Rafael Goldstein (The Son) and above all an on-fire Alison Elliott as the vengeful Stepdaughter breathe so much life into artificial-sounding lines like “It’s maddening, maddening, this mental deafness of hers” and “I was a cute little thing, you know, with hair down to my waist and frilly little underwear” that you can almost forget the creaks.
Also, there’s no denying the delicious “meta-ness” of seeing Dean, Ali, Angelo, Carryl, Reiko, and Robertson playing versions of themselves and imagining that what we’re watching is an actual rehearsal for a retrospective that, if it were to be staged, would be memorable indeed.
Elliott and Rodriguez-Elliott direct with abundant imagination and flair, aided and abetted by Frederica Nascimento’s “bare-stage” black-and-white scenic design, Tom Ontiveros’s ingenious lighting design (which aids enormously in getting us to believe in the play’s mix of the real and the fantastical), Erin Walley’s old-and-new props, and sound designer Robert Oriol’s drama/whimsy-enhancing original music.
Jenny Foldenauer has designed two distinct costume styles, 2016 rehearsal-wear for the actors and dramatic 1920s black (with flashes of red) for the Characters, with some terrific help from hair, wig, and makeup designer Danielle Richter.
Child actors Jack Elliott and Rigel Blue Pierce-English play The Young Son and The Young Daughter quite charmingly, with ensemble members Carina Haller, Marcos J. Ruiz, and Kathryn Ventress completing the cast.
Samantha Sintef is stage manager and Emily Burst assistant stage manager.
Six Characters In Search Of An Author may not stand the test of time quite as well as the concurrently running, decades older You Never Can Tell, but it offers much to both savor and ponder, and perhaps best of all, it does so at well under an hour and a half!
A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd, Pasadena.
March 12, 2106
Photos: Craig Schwartz