The Step-Daughter coquettishly insists that they are interesting as characters, but only "side-tracked." Father explains that their author no longer wished or was no longer able to put them into a work. Their abandonment is a crime as it has robbed them of eternal life. Characters who appear on-stage enter a "fecundating matrix," a fantasy that gives them immortality. The Manager asks if they want to live for eternity. Father replies that they only want a moment in them. The Manager asks for the book; Father rejoins that the drama is in them and that their "inner passion" drives them forward.
Impudently the Step-Daughter declares her "inner passion" for Father and pretends to embrace him. Father rebukes her and the Step-Daughter then brazenly performs "Prenez garde à Tchou-Tchin-Tchou" to the cheering Actors. She invites them to stage their drama, luring them with the moment when God will take the little Child and imbecile Boy from their Mother. After what took place between her and Father, she cannot remain in society, and she cannot bear to witness her Mother's anguish for her icy Son. He, the legitimate son, despises them all—they are the family's bastards. Rushing desperately to the Manager, the Mother faints. The Father and Actors proffer assistance. To Mother's dismay, Father raises her veil, insisting that she let everyone see her. She implores the Manager to stop the Father's loathsome plan.
Confused, the Manager asks for the situation and wonders how can the Mother be a widow if Father is alive. The Actors laugh, momentarily relieved from their bewilderment. Step-Daughter explains the Mother's lover, their father, died two months ago. Father insists that the lover is not absent because he is dead but because Mother's drama is not about the love of two men. Her drama lies in her four children. The Mother protests that she did not want any of them. Father forced her to go away with that other man. Step-Daughter protests, saying Mother is lying on account of the Son. She wants him to believe that Father forced her to abandon him. Father admits to forcing her away. The Actors are enthralled; for once, they are the audience, "in a way."
The Son sardonically warns the Actors that they are about to hear of Father's "Demon of Experiment." Father rejoins that such phrases that tell nothing console one nevertheless. Step-Daughter asks if such is the case with his remorse. Father replies he has used more than words to quiet his remorse. Step- Daughter concurs and says that there was money too, a hundred lire in the blue envelope on the mahogany table of the pimp, Madame Pace's, shop. Though Mother protests, Step-Daughter calls for the scene in Pace's room. Father appeals to the bewildered Manager to let him speak. The Manager expresses that the whole trouble lies in words, and that one's words utter the sense and value as one see them but are inevitably translated according to their listener's inner world. Take Mother, for example: she takes his pity for her as a "specially ferocious form of cruelty."
Act I includes the elaboration of the Characters' life, truth, and reality and then breaks into the frantic and confused development of their situation. As noted above, the Characters have come bearing a drama that they will first recount to the Manager and Actors. The tempestuous Manager is a vulgar realist who clings to the conventions of the theater; it is difficult not to project here an avant-garde playwright's revenge. Note, for example, the Manager's insistence that the company play by the book in the rehearsal. Later, over and against the reality of the Characters before him, he will insist that the Actors act and the Characters remain in their book. Father's rejoinder, that the Manager should look beyond the book, is especially significant. The Characters do not only exist in the book, they also exist in the author's fantasy, and the spectator's. The text requires interpretation reaching far beyond the confines of the script.
As noted above, the "fecundating matrix" of fantasy is particularly important to the Father as it assures the Character of eternal life. As Father explains, the Character lives forever in the work of art that, in an almost maternal capacity, comes to raise and nourish him. He enters this matrix through the Actor, through the moment in which he lives through his reflection. The horrible face of this immortality will emerge later. Note here that the Manager and Actors receive Father's rhapsodic appeal with derision. The Juvenile Lead replies with a bawdy joke and says that he has no object to the Step-Daughter living in him. His joke evokes the sexual overtones of this fantasy of fecundation even as it seems somewhat lost in translation.
As is immediately clear, only two Characters are particularly bent on the realization of their drama: the philosophizing Father and the impudent Step- Daughter. Whereas the former seeks the drama's production to expiate his guilt, perhaps dishonestly, the latter seeks vengeance. Bitterly warring against each other, they deliver their competing versions drama to the company. Note how Pirandello breaks with the well-made play and its general dependence on linear narration. The Step-Daughter begins by interrupting the Father's speeches with a treacherous parody of affection, filial and otherwise. She gives away the end of their situation right from the beginning: the children will die and she will flee.
Seductive and exhibitionistic, the Step-Daughter then erupts into a cabaret- style song and dance of "Prenez garde à Tchou-Tchin-Tchou." The third line of the song, which urges its listeners to beware of the wily Chinese, seems especially significant for our purposes. The Chinese have "put writing everywhere" from Shanghai to Peking. Though this reading is speculative, the line appears to recall the common fantasy among early twentieth-century avant- garde artists of the Chinese ideogram as incarnating form itself, much as Pirandello's Characters do for the company. In any case, this interruption, featuring the Step-Daughter as spectacle on a suddenly erected "second stage," establishes the players as the Characters' aroused audience. As we will see, the daughter is characterized by a love for both the spectacle of her drama and herself as that spectacle's object. In contrast to the Father more cerebral schematization of their tale, she will repeatedly conjure the traumatic scene around which the family's situation crystallizes—her sexual encounter with the Father. She will call up the blue envelope, the table, and, most importantly, the screen behind which she can pose. Later, we will see the Step- Daughter obsess more explicitly over her self-image.
Against the Father and the Step-Daughter, the Mother figures as a witness or spectator internal to the Characters' drama. As the Father notes, her grieving presence marks the fact that a drama has taken place among the Characters. Wrapped in widow's weaves, she will bear and manifest the anguish in the family drama, releasing it in her terrible cry. We will elaborate the function of the grieving mother below. Note here how the Father, bent on his production, is eager to turn her into spectacle. Cruelly he subjects her to the company's guise, lifting her veil so they can look at her. He then quickly sketches her function: the Mother is a mother above all rather than a woman. As we will see, one of the primary points of contention among the Characters themselves is the Step-Daughter and Father's relentless exhibition, their insistence on acceding to stage life and staging a disgrace that the others would keep from the spotlight.