Six Characters in Search of an Author | Study Guide

Luigi Pirandello

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Six Characters in Search of an Author | Act 2 | Summary

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Summary

After an intermission, everyone returns to the stage. The Director tells the Foreman to set up for a scene in the brothel's parlor. They look for a sofa. The Property Man finds a green sofa. The Stepdaughter insists Madame Pace's famous sofa is yellow. The Stepdaughter and the Father ask the Director to find a small mahogany table, a screen, a mirror, and several coat hangers. The Director tells the Prompter to write out the Characters' dialogue in shorthand.

Then the Director instructs the Actors to watch and take notes as the Characters perform the scene. The Father is confused and asks whether the Characters will be rehearsing the scene for the Actors. Yes, the Director says. He explains that actors perform the scene, while characters exist in a written script, when there is one.

The Father wonders why the Characters can't just act out the roles in the play themselves. The Director finds this idea ridiculous. The Characters aren't actors. When the Director looks at his Actors, he thinks casting will be easy. He assigns the role of the Mother to the Second Female Lead. The Father says to use Amalia—the Mother's real name—for the role. The Director doesn't understand why they should use her actual name. The Father says he can picture the Mother only as Amalia.

The Director moves on and casts the Son and the Stepdaughter. When the Leading Lady gets the Stepdaughter's part, the Stepdaughter laughs. The Leading Lady thinks she is being mocked. The Stepdaughter assures her it's not personal—she is just laughing at the idea of someone else playing herself. The Father tries to explain what is "expressed" in the Characters, but the Director won't listen. The Director insists the Characters are only "raw material" for the Actors to give physical expression and voice.

The Father says his family finds it painful to see others playing their roles. The Director snaps, "You can't exist here! Here the actor acts you!" The Father replies he means no offense. He learns the Leading Man is playing his role, and he is honored. But he feels the Leading Man will inevitably bring his own interpretation to the role. The Leading Man won't play the Father as the Father actually is. Audiences of the live performance should know the difference, the Father says.

The Director responds that he is not worried about what critics will say. He checks the set to see if it matches the Stepdaughter's description. The Stepdaughter claims not to recognize it. The Director makes sure a blue envelope is on the table. He reminds the Actors that they'll watch the Father and the Stepdaughter perform the scene first.

When the Director asks about Madame Pace, the Father says she is alive but that she is not with the Characters. To attempt to summon Madame Pace, the Father asks the Actresses for their hats and coats to hang on the set's coatrack. The Actresses are bewildered but finally comply. The Father hopes Madame Pace will be "drawn by the objects of her trade." Then he sees Madame Pace walk onto the set from a back entrance.

Madame Pace is a heavyset old woman with an orange wig, dressed in "garish red silk" and holding a cigarette. The Actors scream in fright. The Stepdaughter greets Madame Pace respectfully. The Director and several Actors wonder aloud who she is. The Father inquires why they want to dismiss "a miracle of a reality ... born on the stage itself." He adds, "This woman is Madame Pace," and no other actress can play her.

Meanwhile the Stepdaughter and Madame Pace talk together in quiet voices. The Director asks them to speak up. The Stepdaughter replies, "These aren't things that can be said louder." She told secrets to shame her father, she says, but these secrets might imprison Madame Pace. The Director reminds the Stepdaughter that audiences have to hear what she is saying. However, she doesn't want the Father to hear what she told Madame Pace.

The Father and the Stepdaughter are eager to begin the scene. The Director first insists he "get the scene out of" Madame Pace and the Stepdaughter. The Stepdaughter responds that Madame Pace was telling her—as she often did—that the Mother's sewing was poorly done. The Stepdaughter would have to make up for the Mother's shoddy work if she wanted money for the family.

Madame Pace makes an unintelligible statement combining Spanish and English. The Director is shocked, and the Actors are amused. The Stepdaughter confirms this is how Madame Pace talks. Madame Pace is angry at the Actors for laughing at her. The Director likes the way she speaks; he thinks it has a "sure-fire" comic effect to balance the drama's "crudity." The Stepdaughter agrees that it seems like a joke when Madame Pace tells her "an old señor" wants a good time.

The Mother runs to the stage, screaming that Madame Pace is a witch and a murderess. She rips off Madame Pace's wig. The Stepdaughter and the Father restrain her. They explain to the Director that Madame Pace and the Mother can't be together. The Director says they'll figure it out and tries to start the scene. Madame Pace refuses to stay while the Mother is there, and the Stepdaughter kicks Madame Pace out.

The Father and the Stepdaughter get in place for their scene. The Father, "already clothed in the reality of his created life," retreats to the back of the stage. The Director reminds the Prompter to capture the Characters' dialogue.

The scene in the brothel begins. The Father and the Stepdaughter greet each other. The Stepdaughter speaks with "contained disgust." The Father—not recognizing her—looks at her first with fear and then with eagerness to please. He guesses she has been there before. The Stepdaughter admits she has. The Father looks at her face and offers to take her hat off for her. The Stepdaughter yanks her own hat off. Meanwhile the Mother stands with the rest of the family and watches. The Mother is extremely anxious, showing "grief, disdain, anxiety, horror" in her face. The Father freezes when he hears the Mother moan.

Recovering, the Father hangs the Stepdaughter's hat and asks if he can choose her a more cheerful one. A young Actress, the Ingenue, protests that those are the actresses' hats. The Director yells at her to shut up. The Stepdaughter refuses to accept a hat since she can't wear it. The Father asks if she is worried about what to tell her family. The Stepdaughter gestures toward her black dress, showing she is in mourning. The Father apologizes. The Stepdaughter, restraining contempt and anger, tells him not to worry. She smiles and says she wants to forget she is dressed like this.

The Director interrupts. He instructs the Prompter to leave out the Stepdaughter's last sentence and tells the Father to "go into the part we prepared." Then the Director and the Actors discuss how the scene should be handled delicately. The Director asks the Leading Lady and the Leading Man to take the spots of the Father and the Stepdaughter and run through the scene. When the Stepdaughter points out that the Leading Lady is not wearing black, the Director tells her she could learn something from watching the Actors.

The Leading Man makes a "relaxed, waggish" and confident entrance. The performance of the Leading Lady and Leading Man is different from the Father and the Stepdaughter's example. Their enactment of the scene appears "corrected, set to rights." The Father and the Stepdaughter watch with varied reactions, including amusement, bafflement, and indignation.

When the Leading Man enters and greets the Leading Lady, the Father protests and the Stepdaughter laughs. The Director is furious at the interruption. The Stepdaughter says she'd certainly laugh if someone spoke to her like the Leading Man just did. The Father says the tone and manner are wrong. The Director ignores them. The Leading Man says he can't think of any other way to portray an old man entering a brothel.

The two Actors continue performing the scene. The Leading Man first expresses eagerness, then fear, when he looks at the Leading Lady's face. The Father corrects him on the wording of a minor phrase. Dissatisfied with the Leading Man's performance, the Director steps in to play the Father's role. He demonstrates how the Father looked at the Stepdaughter with fear and then with eagerness. "Plasticity!" the Director emphasizes to the Leading Man. He lets the Leading Man back into the scene.

As the Actors continue, the Stepdaughter starts laughing uncontrollably. When the Leading Man asks to take off the Leading Lady's hat, his tone and gesture cause the Stepdaughter to lose her composure. The indignant Actors stop the scene, and the Director declares the Stepdaughter has no manners. The Stepdaughter and the Father apologize and mention the scene has a "strange effect" since the Actors aren't them. The Actors are creating what the Father calls "something that becomes theirs ... and stops being ours."

The Director argues this is the whole point of the theater. He murmurs to the Actors how much he hates rehearsing in front of authors. He tells the Actors to keep going, and the Stepdaughter adds that her big moment is coming up. The Director instructs the Leading Man to ask the Leading Lady why she is in mourning. The Stepdaughter interrupts. What the Father actually did, she recalls, was tell her to take off her dress. It's the truth, she says when the Director protests. He claims he can only portray "truth up to a certain point" in the theater. The Stepdaughter accuses him of making her tormented reality a "romantic, sentimental concoction." She reveals what really happened. She didn't get a chance to tell the Father her own Papa had just died. She went behind the screen and took off her clothes.

The Director can't believe what she is saying. "The truth!" she yells at him. The Director understands she is upset, but tells her the scene is impossible to play on the stage. The Stepdaughter says she is leaving if they won't play the scene as it happened to her. She accuses the Director and the Father of collaborating to act out the Father's spiritual woes and ignore her story.

The Director, irritated, tells the Stepdaughter she can't have the sole place in the spotlight. They must also portray the other Characters' stories. The play, he says, needs to fit together as a "harmonious picture" and it must be "performable." He knows the Characters have stories they need to tell. But the point of the theater is to dramatize only the essentials and "imply" or "suggest" the backstory of characters. Not every character can have a long monologue. He also warns the Stepdaughter that she'll look bad if she confesses to visiting Madame Pace's repeatedly with different men.

The Stepdaughter says all of the men have represented the Father to her. The Father was the first one, the one who corrupted her. The Director asks her to consider how guilty the Father must feel and let him act it out. The Stepdaughter, speaking sarcastically about the Father's "'moral' torments," thinks he needs to show his shame. He should act out the scene where he propositioned the little girl he once watched coming home from school. The Stepdaughter is emotional, and the Mother begins weeping loudly.

The Stepdaughter waits for the Mother to calm down. Then she tells the Director he can act out their play tomorrow however he wants. Right now she offers to show him the whole explosive family drama. The Director wants to see it. But the Mother begs him not to allow the action to take place. The Director is confused since he believes the drama has already happened.

The Mother protests that the events of the past are always present for her. She is constantly reliving her torment. The Boy and the Little Girl still cling to her even though they no longer exist. The Stepdaughter ran away, and her presence refreshes the Mother's pain. The Father adds that the Stepdaughter wants him to live constantly in one shameful moment. Even the Director needs him for the story, the Father explains.

The Director agrees. He plans to focus the first act on the Mother catching the Father and the Stepdaughter together. The Mother's agonized cry is "the sentence passed upon me" the Father says. The Stepdaughter is also still haunted by the Mother's cry. She goes into the Father's arms to recreate how she held herself close to him in the brothel. She noticed a vein on her bare arm. Disgusted by the situation, she buried her head in the Father's chest. "Scream as you screamed then!" she calls to the Mother. The Mother screams, runs to the Father and the Stepdaughter and pushes them apart. She calls the Father a brute.

The Director applauds and says, "Curtain!" The Father adds "That's how it actually was!" The Foreman drops the curtain, a semi-comical touch, leaving the Father and the Director visible onstage between the curtain and the footlights.

The Director snaps at the Foreman that he said "Curtain" to indicate the end of the act. He didn't really want the curtain dropped. He tells the Father the first act has been excellent.

Analysis

This act shows how the Characters' story gets reshaped and redrawn onstage. The Characters and the Actors struggle to fit the long, sprawling story into a theatrical framework. The idea of putting the six Characters and their drama onstage seemed manageable in Act 1. Now it takes on new complications. The Director has been coerced into being the author. But as author, he wants to shape the story. His needs conflict with the Characters' desire to tell their version of the truth. They've found an author, but their problem isn't solved.

The conundrum invites the question of a fiction author or playwright's obligation to truth. These writers invent stories—they don't report on real-life events. The question is whether there should be an emotional truth in their work, a truth that transcends the needs of performance.

The Father's analysis shows that it may be impossible to tell a genuine story on the stage. He knows the Leading Man will bring his own interpretation to the role. His enactment of the role won't be the Father, not exactly. It will be someone new. Likewise, members of a theater audience and readers of a script bring their own interpretations. As the Father said in Act 1, individuals bring their own worldview or "world of things" wherever they go. Actors act, readers read, and audiences observe through the filter of individual perspectives. The author's intent may be completely different from a reader's interpretation. And when audience members attend a performance, they hear the words of the author's script and witness the interpretation an actor brings to a role. It may be questionable which version of a drama is the correct one.

The Characters think they have the most genuine perspective on the stage. They're not actors or audience members in the auditorium. They can see the action of the play for what it really means. The scenes the Characters recreate aren't scenes from their past or present. They're scenes from what the Father calls "the eternal moment." The Characters always live in these scenes. The Stepdaughter insists on specific props, like the yellow couch, screen, and blue envelope, which aren't used in the scene. The props are there to capture a certain image and reveal a certain truth. They hint at illicit, hidden activity.

There's an element of situational irony in the Characters' debates with the Director. Even though the Characters live on the stage, they don't seem to understand the conventions of the theater. The Father doesn't know why actors would call the Mother by a fake name, not her real name. The Characters can't fully grasp why the actors pretend to be people they're not. They think the theater is using artifice to cover up the truth.

What the Director says is true—the Characters can't act. They don't consider themselves actors. The talent of acting involves speaking memorized lines and pretending to feel emotions. The Director believes this talent can convey the pathos or sadness of a scene to a theater audience. The Characters think it's a weak substitute for genuine emotion.

The Characters also feel their independent selfhood is jeopardized when someone else plays their roles. The Father loses his sense of reality, finding his own thoughts "ringing false." He and the Stepdaughter feel alienated watching the Actors inhabit their roles, as if the Actors are erasing them and taking over their identities. When the Father contemplates letting the Leading Man play his role, he returns to Pirandello's idea of "multiple personalit[ies]" within everyone. The Leading Man won't see the Father the way the Father sees himself. Thus, the Father wonders whether he will become two people—the person he knows himself to be and the person the Leading Man presents.

The play also calls into question the validity and morality of the Actors' profession. Actors are trained, chameleon-like, to become other people on short notice. They recreate characters' motivations and expressions. But when they take over other people's stories, what harm is done? Do the Characters have a right to their own story? Or do the Actors have license to interpret it in a new way?

Pirandello adds a further wrinkle to what he calls the play's "level of reality" when Madame Pace comes to life on the stage. The Actors now find themselves to be part of the Characters' drama. Their hats and coats summon a woman who belongs only to the Characters' story, not to the Actors' interpretation of it.

Madame Pace's appearance is meant to be grotesque and intimidating. In the original productions of the play, she wore black like the other Characters. For the 1923 Paris premiere of Six Characters, French director Georges Pitoëff changed her costume to a red silk dress and bright orange wig. Madame Pace's appearance became so out of the ordinary it was clearly fictional. Her odd manner of speech would be unintelligible in the real world—but it makes sense for a Character born to the stage. No one can predict or imitate her. She presents a limit to the Actors' talent.

Madame Pace brings out a stark difference between the Actors' and the Characters' situations. The Actors consider performance, while the Characters consider the reality of their drama. The Director thinks Madame Pace would provide great comic relief after the intense family drama. The Mother and the Stepdaughter, however, fall under Madame Pace's control immediately. They both fear her but for different reasons. The Stepdaughter thinks it "seems almost like a joke" that she is forced to work in the brothel after Madame Pace sabotages the Mother's work. Yet the Stepdaughter wants to protect her employer from jail. The Mother is enraged by the damage Madame Pace has done to her family.

Soon the Director becomes irate. Since he brought the Characters onstage, he feels they owe him a dramatic scene. He should be able to understand their actions, including the Stepdaughter's conversation with Madame Pace. Some of the Characters think otherwise, however. The Son wants to be left alone and the Stepdaughter wants to have a private conversation. The Characters resist making adjustments for the convenience and comfort of any spectators. Their resistance raises the question of what playwrights such as Pirandello "owe" their audiences. Pirandello does not present a conventional storyline but instead indicates that playwrights have a larger obligation to create the story their characters want to tell.

When the Stepdaughter chooses the Mother over Madame Pace to stay onstage, she is preparing for the Characters' first scene. She needs the Mother to confront her and the Father in the brothel. The Father prepares too, becoming "clothed" in his identity as a Character. The word clothed implies each new identity is a costume, just as each costume represents a different identity on the stage.

The Characters become performers during their scene. Since they dread the outcome they know is coming, the scene has a natural air of tension. The Father's anxiety seems genuine. He fears the consequences of his own desire. The Stepdaughter's disgust also seems authentic. This moment repulses her.

When the Mother witnesses the scene between the Father and the Stepdaughter, she becomes an observer. She sees the scene unfold, but she doesn't participate. In this respect she resembles an audience member at a live performance. She also resembles the Actors who are watching the scene for the first time. But the Mother's reaction is different from that of the Actors. They have so far reacted with visible shock to the Characters' revelations. But they aren't invested in the drama's outcome; they're entertained. The Mother, in contrast, has a stake in the onstage events. She is not watching as a voyeur but as someone condemned to relive terrible memories. Her anguish shows how the Characters' independent realities invade the Actors' lives—and invade the life of the anonymous author who rejected the Characters' drama. She wants to conceal the truth, while the Stepdaughter wants to reveal it. But neither character hides her emotions well.

The scene seems simple, but it goes through several permutations. The Director has his own plans. He finds the Stepdaughter's last remark to the Father too uncomfortably suggestive. Instead he and the Father prepare a new dialogue, sanitized for the stage.

The Leading Man and the Leading Lady reinterpret the action based on their vision. The Leading Man gives an overconfident, exaggerated performance of a suave lover. He thinks the Father's actions are shameful, and he portrays the type of person he thinks would engage in these actions.

The Leading Lady enjoys his attention, and they settle into character types. The Actors' emotion isn't raw, real, or prone to outbursts. It's managed and contained. The scene seems more readily designed or "set to rights" for the limitations of the stage.

However, Pirandello indicates that the new scene is not quite right. The Leading Man shows eagerness first, followed by fear. He doesn't express the Father's apprehension or tangled emotions. Instead he adopts a false confidence. The Leading Man's phrase "I hope" is more forthcoming and frank than the Father's tentative phrase "Would it?" The scene loses the anxiety and subversive quality of the Characters' performance. It becomes simple, even sentimental. The Director wants the Leading Man to ask the Leading Lady why she is in mourning, encouraging bonding between the two characters.

Meanwhile the Stepdaughter and the Father, in a role reversal, become the spectators. But they don't behave like typical theater audience members. Spectators of live performances typically honor the "fourth wall" or space between audience and stage. Audience members don't openly comment on the skill of the actors, for instance. But the Father and the Stepdaughter laugh out loud and interrupt the production with "open protests." The Stepdaughter doesn't see people playing roles. She sees a performer who is entirely wrong for the role trying to inhabit her identity. For instance, the Leading Lady can't play her part without the essential mourning wardrobe.

The Stepdaughter feels the Director needs to steer the Actors' performance in the direction of truth. In the real scene there was no romance, only violation. She emphasizes the tragedy of her Character, who had "two months' mourning in my heart."

The Director, on the other hand, believes authors and actors need to leave room for ambiguity. Art can imply, suggest, and allude. But art can't be too obvious—it can't state certain things outright. The truth, like the Characters' story, is often nonlinear. It doesn't proceed in a logical fashion. Truth can be crass, messy, and shocking. As the different levels of reality on the stage become transparent, the audience sees how art can cover up as much as it can reveal.

The conflict between the Characters and the Director grows. The Stepdaughter's only loyalty is to her version of the story. She resents how the Father has usurped the position of author. The Director, meanwhile, believes art's first duty is to the unity of the plot, not to the characters within. He insists on a "performable" and "harmonious picture." His speech describes the difficulty of the creative process. Authors have to know what to state and what to leave unsaid. But can an author, like the Characters on the stage, also advance an individual agenda? Since art always has a creator, how successful can art really be at sharing multiple perspectives?

The characters who want to play the role of author—the Stepdaughter, the Father, and the Director—each have their own clear goals. The Director sympathizes with the Father. For a complex, nuanced story, he wants theatergoers to feel the Father's guilt. The Stepdaughter doesn't see the Father as "noble" or "moral" and resists the idea of portraying him this way.

The Characters can't stretch their imaginations to accept other people playing their roles, nor can they imagine different futures for themselves. The Stepdaughter thinks "even before I was born" she was fated to have her life ruined by the Father. The author already dictated her story.

The Mother's goal is different. She wants to spare herself the pain of recreating the story. Her speech to the Director illuminates a large difference between the Characters and the Actors. The Actors think they're dramatizing past events. The Mother says each act exposes the Characters to a situation for the first time. No matter how often they reenact the same scenes, the events will never feel removed or distant. The Mother challenges the Director to take her pain seriously. She is not expressing emotion as a theatrical plot arc or a great dramatic moment. As she explains, "My torment is not a pretense." The Mother doesn't even know she is a Character, as Pirandello points out in his Preface. She is just a person in agony.

Toward the end of Act 2, the Characters' raw pain becomes more urgent. The Actors also start to be affected by it. The Father describes himself as being sentenced and physically tortured "in the pillory." The Stepdaughter recalls a vivid image from her encounter with the Father—the vein on her arm—giving the scene a tangible air of reality. She invites the Mother to reenact her past and perpetual torment and "scream as you screamed then." The Mother responds as if for the first time, and the Stepdaughter finally has her revenge.

The curtain drops to imitate the ending of a scene in a conventional play. Its accidental falling and the Director's protests give the moment a type of comedy. The Director and the Father, the two people who most prominently exist as both characters and authors, are left isolated. The stage now belongs to them both.

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