By Luigi Pirandello
Pittsburgh, Pa. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009
New York: E.P. Dutton, 1952
Translated from the Italian by Edward Storer
ISBN # 0-525-47006-9100151-0
65 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
April 2012

First performed in 1924

As play begins seemingly on a practice stage, the cast is getting ready to rehearse another Pirandello play, “Mixing It Up.” Out of the dark back stage emerge 6 people, dressed in mourning clothes: Father, Mother, Step-Daughter (about 18), Son (about 22), Boy (about 14), Child (about 4) and Madame Pace.

The father begins to talk to the assembled actors and others, telling about the lives of the 6, and that they were “born” characters, but the author who brought them to life could (or would) no longer write their story, thus they are “in search of an author” to bring their lives to fruition. Of course the theater folks think these people are joking or crazy, but the father explains that, no he is not playing with them, nor crazy. Some are born human, or as an animal, flower, ocean or whatever. These six were born as characters and they have to have someone to bring their lives to fruition. Thus they have come to this theater hoping to have the actors bring them to life in its fullness.

The theater people scorn all this, and tell them that what they – the cast – do is to bring characters to life. The father protests – no, they “play” the character, but it is the author who gives them life. They next protest that this is all absurd, and with that comment the father agrees:

“. . . life is full of infinite absurdities, which strangely enough, do not even need to appear plausible since they are true.”

They were, he insists, truly born as characters and need to be fulfilled by being played.

And thus the play continues as the characters begin to act out their lives and the cast become glued to what’s happening in front of them, while continuing to be very skeptical of whatever this absurdity is. They never stop wondering, what are these people doing?

Their “play” begins to go over the top of what is socially acceptable on the stage, and the director (who has sort of agreed to be their author) protests that one can’t do some of these things on the stage. The message the director receives is:

“The world, he seems to say, is not made for saints to live in. We must take the people who live in it for what they are, since it is not vouchsafed them to be anything else.”

When the director attacks the group for wasting the time of the cast and himself, the father denounces them all for their insensitivity, and for missing the “reality” of the situation:

"Excuse me, all of you! Why are you so anxious to destroy in the name of a vulgar common sense of truth, this reality of the stage itself, which has indeed more right to live here than you, since it is much truer than you . . . “

The father argues that they are more real than the live people (cast and director) who are always becoming. These characters never change; they ARE where the others are always different and BECOMING.

I found the play to be gripping and powerful. I think the point that we the living are and always becoming, and have chances to constantly built and rebuild ourselves is a profound insight. Yet these “characters” don’t have that freedom. The author fixes them in this moment and they can only be that, but their author didn’t even finish the job.

It seems to me that Pirandello is leaning toward the view that each of us is always becoming and never being, a theme which Martin Heidegger soon would explore in his powerful BEING AND TIME, and then which Jean-Paul Sartre would later develop in some detail in his BEING AND NOTHINGNESS. I’m not sure how much philosophical interest Pirandello had in that theme, it appears from the play that he is more interested in this notion in trying to explore the role of theater in understand human reality, and is fascinated by this distinction between people and characters, authors and actors.

The play is challenging, gripping and quite worth an attentive read.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett