Paul LaNave as Paul and Adam Whisner as Father
Photo by Aaron Fenster
I am generally a fan of plays within plays, and Alan Berk's adaptation of the 1921 Italian play Six Characters in Search of An Author certainly fall into this category. But is unlike any that I have seen before.
To begin the "outside" play in which all the drama takes place is the finale of a reality TV show/competition called the Maze, and the inner story is that of six characters whose story was never finished and are searching an author. This difference makes the play feel unique, but it also took a while to find it's footing.
Act 1 opened strong, the reality show nature of it felt real. The breaking of the fourth wall with pleas to tweet and take pictures both brought me in and made me confused. Because any who is a regular theater goer knows, using the phone during a performance is extremely rude, right up there with talking and eating snacks with loud wrappers. But although it confused me, it was affective in drawing me in. As did the banter and relationship between the three contestants, Michael, the dude (played by Michael Terrell Brown), Rachel, the flirt (played by Rachel Finch) and Sam, the jerk (played by Sam Landman). But what really brought together this reality TV show world that us as audience members walked into was the manic desperation of the show-runner Paul (played by Paul LaNave).
The arrival of the 6 characters, who were eventually discovered to be in search of an author greatly disrupted the rhythm that had been well established. I was very confused, their story was scattered with the different characters trying to compete to speak and get their side across. Even their intention for arrival was difficult to understand at first. And I found the melodrama of the group taking me out of the play that I had just felt drawn into. By intermission I was confused, unsure of how I was feeling about this adaptation thus far, but hopeful.
Kiara Jackson as Daughter
Photo by Aaron Fenster
Luckily Act 2 brought it all together. With some order brought to the chaos by Paul, the story and true intentions of the six characters could be told. The melodrama drew me into the story were as in Act 1 it had pulled me out. Each character had a chance to tell their tragic story and the torment of being trapped in it. Kiara Jackson as Daugher and Sandra Struthers as Mother both gave beautifully devastating performances that truly stood out.
But what I found most interesting was the conversation of characters vs people, fiction vs reality and what it means to represent someone or a character by inhabiting them as an actor. Because we as an audience are seeing this argument told in the fashion that is being argued against. Yet that is never mentioned, and it can't be.
And just as we as audience members finally get to see the complete story, or what exists of it, of these six characters characters they leave us and we are left with the reality show that we started with but everything is different. And this difference that we feel is also felt my the "real people" that make up the reality show world that we entered into 2 hours ago.
And this is why I love plays within a play. Stories within a story. Because you have someone to go on the journey with you. And in the world of live theater that is communal storytelling this adds to the experience in a way that you can't otherwise. For all the stumbling that I felt early on in Alan Berk's adaptation of Six Characters In Search Of An Author, it landed beautifully.
Correction: In my original post I stated that Six Characters In Search of An Author was based on a French play, it is based on an Italian play.