Six Characters in Search of an Author
Act II: Part Three
The Manager complains that he never could rehearse with the author present. He continues, instructing the Father to continue. When Step-Daughter speaks of her grief, he must "come in sharp with 'I understand.'" Step-Daughter interrupts: Father really answered "Ah well then let's take off this little frock." The Manager refuses to cause a riot in the theater; they can only provide truth to a certain point. The Step-Daughter, however, will not stand a little "romantic sentimental scene." She knows the Manager has conspired with Father to produce his "cerebral drama." She insists on having her part. The Manager rejoins that on-stage one character cannot be too prominent. The characters must fit into a "neat little framework." They the actors "act what is actable." They must take the others into consideration and hint at their unrevealed interior lives. The Step-Daughter probably wants each character to give a monologue or lecture.
The Manager notes that the Step-Daughter exaggerates her indignation as well. Step-Daughter replies that they all mean Father to her, since the Father is responsible for her first fault and thus all that follow. The Manager urges her to let him act out his responsibility; Step-Daughter replies that he cannot if the Manager would spare him the horror of the scene. Mother erupts into tears. Acknowledging that tomorrow the actors will do with them as they wish, Step-Daughter offers them the scene as it truly was. She again asks that Mother be removed. Mother cries that she cannot bear it. The scene is taking place now; she feels every minute of her torture. Her mute children cling to her to keep her torment actual; they do not exist for themselves any longer. Step-Daughter has run away; if Mother sees her, it is only to renew her suffering.
Father remarks that the Manager cannot spare him his "eternal moment." The Manager plans it as the nucleus of the first act. Father concurs and adds that it will culminate in Mother's cry. Step-Daughter remembers her cry all too well along with a disgusting vein in her arm when she put her head of Father's breast. She does so again and cues Mother to cry. Mother rushes forward, pulling her away. The Manager approves and notes that the curtain will then fall. To his annoyance, the Machinist lets the curtain down in earnest.
Though frustrated by a Father who would play his own author, the Manager resumes his rehearsal with the Characters, proceeding to the traumatic nucleus of their drama. This climax, however, falls flat. As we have noted throughout, Six Characters concerns itself with what remains conventionally inadmissible to playing space, what the play figures as the truth or reality of the Characters' drama, a reality that belongs to the realm of aesthetic forms. What appears as this inadmissible reality is obscene speech (L. ob-scaenus, off-scene): the Father's scandalous proposition that the Step-Daughter remove her mourner's frock. As the Manager protests, such obscenity would cause a riot in the theater. Note the especially vivid incarnation of the excessiveness of this scene: the pulsating vein that embodies the Step-Daughter's disgust. In any case, the Step-Daughter furiously protests that such censorship is clearly in collusion with the Father. The conventions of the stage would conspire to repress the Father's perversity. Without this determining scene, their tragedy becomes a sentimental or cerebral affair. In some sense, the Step-Daughter has lived this traumatic scene in each one of her jobs. As she relates, all her clients have meant the Father to her, as he is to blame for her plight. Though the company may do what they will with their story, the Characters must perform it faithfully. On his own part, the Father certainly cannot hope to expiate his crimes through a more decent production. Thus even he insists that he suffer his punishment, the humiliating "eternal moment" that determines him as a character.
As noted above, the Mother figures as witness to this obscene exchange. She bears the grief of the family's tragedy, releasing its anguish in her final, culminating wail. Like the other Characters, she remains bound to their drama's "eternal moment." Note again the temporality that she inhabits as a result. The Mother lives "every minute of her torture." As accessory figures—in some sense part of the Mother's costume—the mute children function to keep it actual for her and they do not exist for themselves. At the same time, she is also subject to the "pastness" the Step-Daughter evoked earlier. The children are dead; the Step-Daughter is lost; the Mother's drama is always already done Thus, her pathetic protests that the Manager forbid the drama's rehearsal are in vain. Fixed in this manner as the grieving spectator, the Mother provides a position from which we would view the traumatic scene even as her grief is also on display as a spectacle before us. She moves even the cynical company, opening a pause in the tense rehearsal. The Manager, however, immediately breaks the would-be pathos of this scene, moving to the footlights to appraise the spectacle and the Father quickly follows. For him, the first act is guaranteed, and the curtain should fall. The curtain drop is a familiar transitional device, the wiping of the playing space at the end of a climatic moment providing the spectator with a sense of closure and elicits its anticipation for the events to come. Its deployment here, however, thoroughly denaturalizes it. The accidental drop of the curtain is the second major interruption in the play, marking the transition to Act III. As with the twenty minute pause, the drop of the curtain plays off Six Characters's multiple frames of reference. At once, it is the drop that would occur in earnest in the staging of the Characters' drama, the "accident" that occurs within the rehearsal, and the mark that abruptly ends Act II. The natural spectacle is botched, that would should occur in earnest becoming an accident, an accident in turn motivated by the structure of the play. The elements of the spectacle are entirely subject to the carefully calculated accidents of the Demon of Experiment.
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