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Six Characters In Search Of An Author (A Noise Within)

Luigi Pirandello’s 1921 surreal drama,Six Characters in Search of an Author,” is rarely performed as it demands actors who are comfortable both with classical language and contemporary styles of speaking. Fortunately A Noise Within has given it an exemplary production.

Pirandello (1867-1936), Italian by birth and by nature, wanted to explore how “natural” life could be viewed through a distorted literary/theatrical lens, for greater understanding. And artistic directors Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott found a perfect venue for this still-simmering “experiment”:  their own theatre with its blend of long-time company members and talented outsiders.

What Pirandello was investigating was the separation/integration of six characters who have escaped from an unfinished play by an unknown author. And they want their stories not only to be successfully told by a new writer, but that they should play themselves instead of the professional actors, currently working on a production of “Our Town.”

Well, strange as it may seem, the actors aren’t especially interested in that idea, so the seeds of conflict are sown automatically, with the actors insisting they can play these characters – right in front of them – better than these interlopers could play themselves. It’s a right-on comedic device that lends itself to drama as well.

It is said that casting is well over 50% of a director’s job if your play or film is to succeed, and here, as usual with this valuable company, the casting is spot-on. Elliott has cast himself as the father of the confused invaders, with Abby Craden as the hysterical mother, Alison Elliott as the sexually-avaricious stepdaughter, Jack Elliott as their cowed teen, Rigel Blue Pierce-English as the youngest daughter, and Raphael Goldstein as their alienated adult son.

Using ANW’s actual theatrical history, plus name-dropping of rival local theatres in Pasadena and elsewhere, the Company – Robertson Dean as an over-wrought director, Susan Angelo, June Carryl, and Abubakr Ali as increasingly annoyed actors who’re interrupted in the third-act cemetery scene in “Our Town” (a production well-remembered from ANW’s old digs in Glendale) by this gaggle of literary characters.

All of this is laid out finely on the large stage in a slightly raked, darkened set (design by Frederica Nascimento), with Tom Ontiveros’ dim lighting, using evocative sound design and music by Robert Orio.

Some of the insider-humor comes from the actors commenting, for instance, on how often Rodriguez-Elliott uses umbrellas in almost every play (true!) to how Dean had directed a recent production of Anouilh’s “Antigone,” to those rival companies some of the actors get jobs in. Inside-jokes which earned the audiences’ approval.

Along with their recent productions of “Figaro” and this season’s “You Never Can Tell,” the professional standards – entertaining as can be! – were upheld by this production of a difficult and thus rarely produced oddball of a play, setting new and larger standards for themselves. Anyone who is willing to explore along with these artists’ interpretations of classics must actually subscribe to ANW to see how great theatre can consistently be.

“Six Characters in Search of an Author” runs through May 14th at A  Noise Within Theatre, 3352 Foothill Blvd, Pasadena 91107. Tickets:  626.356,3100 x1 or at Parking is free and plentiful.