The literary limbo of the benighted family of “Six Characters in Search of an Author” is capably handled in the revival of the Luigi Pirandello play by Arlington’s WSC Avant Bard — even if, by contemporary standards, there’s no longer anything very “avant” about the 1921 absurdist classic.
The fairly conventional treatment the piece receives under Tom Prewitt’s direction at the Artisphere makes it a worthwhile experience for students of theater history and others who might be curious about how Pirandello’s brain-teasing work fares on a stage. But it should be noted that even when inhabited by such watchable actors as Brian Hemmingsen and Nanna Ingvarsson, the play can’t entirely shake off its faintly dated odor.
Hemmingsen and Ingvarsson are The Father and Mother of “Six Characters,” fictional characters who barge in on a huffy Director (Bruce Alan Rauscher) and a group of jaded actors rehearsing another play. Along with The Stepdaughter (Sara Barker), The Son (Joshua Dick), The Girl (Emily Ocasio) and The Boy (Sebastian Ingvarsson-Hemmingsen), the Father and Mother materialize to beseech the Director to hear their story and, more important, allow it to be enacted on the stage.
Their understanding of reality, however, is limited to the outlines of how their tale has been written, and so in confronting the acting troupe, they are able only to articulate a sliver of life as they know it. “I live and breathe my torment. It never ends,” declares Ingvarsson’s Mother, dressed in the mournful black of a woman who’s experienced only woe.
Once the dimensions of their plight have been explained — most compellingly by the imposing, vocally adept Hemmingsen — the play enters a phase of rhetorical stasis. It turns out, of course, that we are as trapped in our existences as they are in theirs: “We suffer under the illusion that we are the same person for everyone,” The Father notes.
For an audience, reflecting on the breadth of Pirandello’s dramatic ingenuity can certainly be edifying, though the “Twilight Zone” novelty of the piece soon wears off. What you’re left with is the unraveling of the rather cold and murky details of The Father’s past behavior, as angrily recounted for the actors by Barker’s outraged Stepdaughter. The melodrama-within-a-play is only mildly absorbing.
Collin Ranney’s set, with painted images of clouds on the floor and backdrop, provides the properly ethereal environment for “Six Characters,” whose appeal on the basis of this production these days resides most reliably in the realm of the academic.
By Luigi Pirandello, translated by Carl R. Mueller. Directed by Tom Prewitt. Set, Collin Ranney; lighting, Jason Aufdem-Brinke; sound and music, David Crandall; costumes, Lynly Saunders. With Jon Jon Johnson, Liz Dutton, Andrew Ferlo, Jim Epstein, Anna Lathrop, Anne Nottage. About 90 minutes. Through Dec. 9 at Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. Call 888-841-2787 or visit www.wscavantbard.org.