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Six Characters in Search of an Author

Luigi Pirandello

Act II: Part Two

Act II: Part One

Act II: Part Three

Summary

Father asks the Actresses to hang their hats and mantles on the set's clothes pegs. By putting them on show, they will lure Madame Pace with the very articles of her trade. Pace appears from the rear. The Leading Lady denounces this "vulgar trick." Father wonders why the actors are so anxious to destroy the "magic of the stage itself," a true magic, in the name of a "vulgar, commonplace sense of truth."

Pace's scene with Step-Daughter begins before Father finishes. When the actors see that the two speak unintelligibly, their interest wanes. They urge them to speak more loudly. Turning from the "Sphinx-like smile" of Pace, Step- Daughter replies that they cannot discuss such matters loudly; if she once spoke loudly, it was to shame Father. The Manager protests that the audience will not hear them and they must pretend that they are in a backroom, unheard by anyone. The Step-Daughter disagrees and the Father waits behind the door and might overhear. Father moves into position, and the Manager stops him. They must observe the "conventions of the theater"—they must first have the scene between the two women. Dying to play her scene, Step-Daughter protests that Pace has only told her what they already know—that Mamma's work is badly done again, that she must be patient.

Pace comes forward, saying, "Yes indeed sir, I no wanta take advantage of her." The actors erupt in laughter. The Manager finds the comic relief of her accent in such a crude situation magnificent. Step-Daughter agrees, since "suggestions" made in such language seem almost a joke. Suddenly Mother leaps up, denouncing Pace. The Actors restrain her. Step-Daughter and Father insist that Mother be removed: she cannot be with Pace. Insisting that their rehearsal is but a rough sketch, the Manager leads Mother to her chair. Now Pace, however, furiously refuses to proceed with Mother present. Step-Daughter imperiously orders her away and, to the Manager's annoyance, calls for the scene.

Though initially perplexed, the Father becomes more natural as the "reality of the action" affects him. Father cautiously greets the young prostitute and gallantly takes her hat and offers her a new one. The Ingénue protests that those are theirs. The Mother is "on thorns," showing "varying expressions of sorrow, indignation, anxiety, and horror." Conquering her nausea, Step- Daughter protests that she cannot wear one as she is in mourning. The Manager interrupts, asks the Prompter to cut the last bit, and calls the Leading Man and Lady to play the same scene. Step-Daughter protests that the Lady is not wearing black and she replies that she will be and "much more effectively" that her. The Manager invites the Characters to watch and learn.

Though in no way giving a parody, the actors' scene is quite different. Father protests, and Step-Daughter bursts out laughing when upon the first "Good afternoon." The Manager orders them to stand aside so he can see the action. He makes a few interjections in the scene, adding gestures, and lines. To the actors' indignation, Step-Daughter bursts into laughter again. Father begs their pardon, as it produces such a "strange effect" to watch. While the Actors are admirable, they are not the Characters.

Analysis

Whereas Act I stages the retelling of the Characters' drama, Act II stages its rather botched rehearsal. This rehearsal would consist of two scenes: a dialogue between the Step-Daughter and Madame Pace and then the encounter between Step- Daughter and Father. The strangest action of the rehearsal is undoubtedly the birth of Madame Pace through the medium of the actresses' coats and hats. An adherent to the standards of plausibility discussed earlier, the Leading Lady denounces the conjuring as a "vulgar trick": it breaks the verisimilitude of theatrical illusion. Or, even worse, such an expedient device betrays a weakness in playwriting. Though Pirandello describes Pace's birth as a duplication of her birth in his fantasy, the Father characterizes it rather as an exercise in the very magic of the stage. In a work concerned with reflecting on its own medium, Pace's birth evokes the mythic origins of theater—that of rite, ritual, and ceremony, the coats and mantles on show serving as the scene's talismans. As with the Characters, theater would enable crossings from the other world. Equipped with a pair of shears and "puffy oxygenated hair," Pace is almost a comic Fate.

Pace and the Step-Daughter's scene ensues irrespective of the Actors' protest, beginning "in a manner impossible for the stage." They speak inaudibly, with indifference to their increasingly bored spectators. Recall that, as the Father insists within the fiction of this play, the Characters would not play their parts as live them before their audience. Pace and the Step-Daughter's silent exchange, marked by Pace's enigmatically "Sphinx-like" smile, would represent the reality that falls outside the conventional theater. This reality is not that of life but that of the Characters' drama. If the Step-Daughter spoke loudly out of revenge, she now speaks of matter that demand restraint. The drama demands the betrayal of convention. Pirandello profits greatly from this contrast between the Actors and Manager concerned with the conventional success of the spectacle and the Characters bent on realizing their drama. This contrast underpins the comic effect of the stereotypically egoistic Leading Lady, for example, who insists, that she will wear black more effectively than the Step- Daughter, who wears it in mourning. Or take, for another example, the Manager's glee at the "comic relief" Pace's accent adds to the crudity of the situation in contrast to the Step-Daughter reflection that it makes a bitterly ironic joke out of the affair.

At the same time, the play cannot be reduced to a simple opposition between drama the Characters would live out and the spectacle and Actors would perform. Consider here how the drama's rehearsal complicates their relation. The Father, as if driven by the "reality of the action," begins the second scene. It seems to unfold naturally, enacting another myth of theater: here the Characters have come to life to live out their story. At the same time, this scene is itself a spectacle, a play within a play. Its spectacular nature is made clear through the figure of the watching Mother, a Mother who, in the drama, should not be able to see these events. Much as Pirandello does in his preface, the Father attributes the Mother with a "mental deafness." Likened to an animal making "mute appeals," she is defined by instinct and feeling alone. Within Pirandello's universe, she is nature without mind. Her function is to bear the effect in the Characters' drama: the pathos of her situation even moves the sardonic players. Before the spectacle, the martyred Mother almost assumes the role of a chorus. Her forms of spectatorship would cue the audience's responses at the level of effect. Thus, "on thorns," she shows "varying expressions of sorrow, indignation, anxiety, and horror."

In spite of the Mother, the Characters' spectacle is not watched properly. Instead, its spectators break the frame, first with the comic interjection of the Ingénue, who protests the use of her hat, and then with the Manager's call for the actors' rehearsal. This second rehearsal, an imitation of the first, then follows with the most explicit enactment of the "mirror theater" thus far. The Manager orders the Characters to stand aside, to stop interposing their spectacle with the one he is staging. Following the rehearsal of the Characters' drama, the scene can only suffer the inferior status of a "copy." For the Characters, the scene is "estranging"—it has, as the Step-Daughter remarks, a "strange effect." Thus, though not a parody, it can only elicit the Father's frustrated protest and the Step-Daughter's anxious laughter.

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