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After twenty minutes, the stage bell rings. The Step-Daughter emerges from the Manager's office with the Child and Boy. She dismisses the group's nonsense and makes as if to flee. Lovingly she takes the Child's face into her hands and pretends to reply to its question. Though she cannot see the others, the garden and fountain are right here. She figures that it is better to imagine them though, because it is only painted cardboard when they fix it up. For the Child, however, there is no joke. It will have to play by a real fountain. Angrily Step-Daughter forces Boy's hands out of his pockets and discovers a revolver. She calls him an idiot. If she had been in his place, she would have killed Father and Son, not herself.
Father and Manager emerge and beckon Step-Daughter back into the office. Son and Mother appear, the latter protesting his cruelty. The Son grumbles over how the others want to put their tale on stage. Father complains that he has been seen in the place he should have never been, but the Son too has had to reveal how his parents do not match the idea of parents. Once this disparity is revealed, the family is only linked together at one point. It should shame the parents.
Everyone returns to the stage, and the Manager orders the set prepared for rehearsal. Step-Daughter insists on various items, the screen in particular, but the Manager assures her that they are only experimenting. He gives the Prompter an outline of the scenes and asks him to take everything down in shorthand. He assures the Leading Lady that they will not have to improvise. First they will watch the Characters act. Confused, Father wonders why the Characters themselves should not go before the public. The Manager scoffs, saying that actors act, and characters are in the book where there is one. He casts the parts, first making the Second Lady Lead the Mother. He would rather not call her by Mother's real name, Amalia, but relents for now. More confused, Father muses that his own words have begun to "ring false, as if they had another sound"
The Manager names the Juvenile Lead the Son and the Leading Lady the Step- Daughter. To the Lady's offence, the latter bursts out laughing. She cannot at all see herself in her. Father asks what is to become of the Characters' temperament, or their souls. The Manager insists that their souls take shape here in the actors. Make-up will fix the difference in features. On the stage, the character cannot exist as himself. Mellifluously Father argues that even with his wonderful art, the actor will not absorb the character into himself. The effect will be how the actor senses him, not how he understands himself to be. The Manager sighs that Father thinks like the critics. He asks Step-Daughter if the set is all right and she replies that she does not recognize it. The Manager calls for the first scene between Step-Daughter and Madame Pace and suddenly notices that Pace is missing.
Acts II and III stage the rehearsal of the Characters' drama, sketching what would be its Acts I and II respectively. Before proceeding with the rehearsal of the Characters' drama, Act II stages two dialogues, one between the Step- Daughter, the Child she has taken up in wake of the Mother's neglect, and the Boy, and another between the Son and Mother. Both are scenes of protest, the Step-Daughter and Son respectively protesting the spectacle about to ensue. It would appear that some deal is being struck behind the scenes between the play's two authorial figures: the Manager and Father. The Characters' protests over and against these authorial intentions will return throughout the act. In the first dialogue, which functions more as a monologue, the Step-Daughter rushes out with the mute children, making as if to flee. She introduces the Child to the stage, once again underlining the reality of the drama they are about to play. Note the disorienting double entendre in her laments: the "horrid comedy" refers to both the spectacle and the Characters' story, a story that, within the logic of the play, remains fixed and eternal in its reality. The eternal aspect of its reality especially emerges when the Step-Daughter forces the Boy to reveal his revolver, the instrument of his suicide. Also note how she speaks in the past tense. Though the Characters exist in the present of the stage, their dramas have already unfolded and remain immutable. Thus, as suggested by their unnerving silence, the Child and Boy are already dead.
In the second dialogue, the Son protests the Father's attempt to stage their drama to a mother who can only respond with her sorrow. He bristles at Father's authorial arrogance, the belief that he understands their entire situation. Moreover, the Son relates his humiliation in the family's exhibition. The Son will have to reveal the disjuncture between his mother and father and his fantasy of them. As with the Father's determining moment, this revelation links him "at one point only" to his parents, the biological one, and this absence of a filial tie should shame them.
What follows is the preparation for the first rehearsal. The scene evokes on the visual and auditory bustle of a spectacle in the process of being assembled: for example, the Manager calls for props and sets the scene. The Step-Daughter, obsessed with the trappings of her central scene, seeks the correct props. Ultimately the scene staged will remain unrecognizable to her. Note in particular the number of props related to vision, to display and conceal: the shop-windows, the mirror, and the screen. It is precisely as a mirror, as we will see explicitly, that the spectacle fails. The only accurate transcription of the Characters' drama is just that—a transcription. But once given form in the spectacle, when played by the actors, the drama no longer matches up with the Characters' reality.
The most striking disjuncture between the spectacle and the drama appears between the Actors and Characters. The warped mirroring between them is shown explicitly later in the act. Six Characters refuses the notion that the Actor can assimilate the Character: as the Father gently protests, no actor can "absorb him into himself. By making his Characters have substance, Pirandello has underscored the incommensurability between the two: they become bodies and souls independent of the Actors. Thus Character's interpretation by the Actor becomes a process of the former's estrangement. The Step-Daughter cannot recognize herself; the Father words start to ring uncertainly, even false; the Mother might have a new name. Because he waxes philosophically on these dissonances, the Father is accused of playing the critic. The Manager's jab is correct: the Father's attention to the workings of the dramatic spectacle commits him to criticism. Such reflection on the cracks in the spectacle certainly does not interest the Manager. For this vulgar realist, the Characters belong to the book and the Actors to the stage, the latter seamlessly present the former, and there should be no antagonism between them.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Six Characters in Search of an Author!