INDIANAPOLIS — There is no “relax and enjoy the show” for the audience in the absurdist think-piece “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” presented by the Indiana Performing Arts Initiative and playing now through July 29 on stage at Herron High School.
The performance is a play within a play. At the outset, actors are rehearsing a play (a fictional work called “Mixing It Up,” by Luigi Pirandello), but it quickly becomes a play within a play within a play as six additional characters show up, disrupting the rehearsal and demanding to have their story played out.
In this outlandish comedy, written by Luigi Pirandello in 1921, the character of the producer (in today’s terms, the Director) is played by Eastern Hancock High School grad Zachariah Stonerock.
As a professional actor, Stonerock is serious about his craft, and it shows. He lives the role, getting down to the business of rehearsal with his actors. Thus, he’s truly irritated when the uninvited characters materialize to interrupt his rehearsal.
The characters are a family: a father and mother, a son, a stepdaughter, a little boy and a little girl.
Their grievance, voiced by the father, is that they were created in an author’s imagination but never put into the pages of a script. He explains that a playwright will die, but what he creates will never die; he and the other characters want what everyone wants: to live forever.
The characters bring a tragic and convoluted story to stage that captures emotions similar to those featured in “Peyton Place.” The story includes elements of abandonment, betrayal, a fall from grace, death and suicide — and suddenly it’s no longer a comedy.
Their hope is to play out their tragedy through the actors, but then begins the discussion of what is real and what is illusion. So if you thought you were going to be able to sit back and relax for an evening of theater, think again.
The characters insist they are real, but the actors’ portrayal of them is not real; the actors only pretend to be the characters. The father says of his actor counterpart: “His idea of me is not my idea of me.”
After getting the gist of the characters’ narrative, the actors from the rehearsal are eager to step in and portray the characters, but in the opinion of the characters, the actors fall short in all ways. The actors not only bear no resemblance to the characters by any stretch of the imagination, the actors’ portrayal of the characters’ most intimate and heartfelt moments comes across as shallow and false.
The characters eventually win out to play their own scenes and everyone on stage, including the director — who began the play focused on his own rehearsal — is drawn into the unfolding drama, but not before the audience is given ample time to ponder what is real and what isn’t.
The story is mostly told by the father (Bradford Reilly) and the stepdaughter (Sara Castillo). Both are excellent in their roles, but Reilly was sometimes hard to hear and Castillo struggled at playing the seductive fallen woman.
Lauren McDaniel as the mother, sobbed with such anguish at the downfall of her daughter, as to convince anyone that the characters were indeed real.
The little girl (Natalie Sayer) and the little boy (Colin McCabe) were perfectly understated in their roles of incomplete characters. They had no lines and they spent most of their stage time with their pale and pasty faces looking down at the floor.
The play also features Greenfield-Central graduate Kayla Lee as the stage manager. She rarely speaks but has ample stage time as the stage manager who sets the scene for rehearsal.
The performance I attended did not receive a standing ovation, but it should have.
Stonerock admirably shouldered the responsibility of moving the show along, first in his desire to get down to the business of rehearsal and then when his interest is captured by the characters’ story. As he engages in the philosophical reality versus illusion argument with the characters, he speaks clearly so that the audience is easily able to follow the discussion in this absurdist drama.
This play is one of two inaugural productions by the newly formed Indiana Performing Arts Initiative, a partnership formed between IUPUI and Claude McNeal Productions.
Their mission is to create a summer stock program which includes apprenticeships and internships for high school and college students who work side by side with professional actors.
If this is the level of performance and type of thought-provoking production we can look forward to in the future from this group, then it is a welcome addition to Indianapolis theater.
The Indiana Performing Arts Initiative presents Luigi Pirandello’s absurdist play “Six Characters in Search of an Author.”
Showing now through July 29 on stage at Herron High School, 110 E. 16th St., Indianapolis.
Ticket prices range from $8 for children to $12 for adults and are available at theipai.com/order-tickets/.
Father: “We want to live.”
Director: “For eternity?”
Father: “No, sir, only for a moment…in you.”