Generic Theatre succeeds with tragic comedy

You have probably been to Lisner Auditorium at some point during your GW career. But have you ever ventured through the side entrance, down the stairs, around a corner or two, and through a door in the long basement hallway?

If not, and even if you have, you should make the journey to Lisner Downstage. Here you find a simple stage with black walls and seating for only about 75 people. But, the simplicity of the set allows the magnitude of the performance to shine through. This weekend at Downstage Lisner the Generic Theatre Company is performing Luigi Pirandello’s 6 Characters in Search of an Author.

6 Characters in Search of an Author focuses on exactly what the title says. An author has failed to complete the story of six characters and has abandoned them. The lives of these characters are forever stopped in time because no ending has been written for them. They invade the set of another Pirandello play, where the actors are practicing to act out the life that they feel is their right to perform. In doing so, the characters rebel against their author and question his decisions about their lives. They refuse to follow stage directions because they feel that they can better express their story, and their tragedy, than any director could.

Director Jay Dasgupta and the actors transform the script into two hours of real life. The play is by no means a light and airy comedy. 6 Characters in Search of an Author is a densely detailed tragic comedy. The contrast between the characters and the cynical overpaid actors provides for a lot of dry humor and laughs but never takes away from the intense story of the characters.

In two hours you begin to feel that you know these characters, and, like real life, you don’t understand their story right away. It takes the entire length of the play to understand the whole of their story.

Because this is a play about a play and about another story, there really is no line between audience and actor. It makes you feel like you are part of the play.

The most satisfying thing about the show is that you will want to see it again. It is so detailed that there is probably something surprising you missed the first time through. Dasgupta said he chose 6 Characters in Search of an Author for that reason. He saw a lot of ways in which he could add to the play to make it richer without taking away from the story that Pirandello was telling.

Dasgupta accomplishes this goal by attaching artwork to the characters. The artwork represents their different emotions – the characters represent the emotions that are strongest in their personalities. Although it does not make complete sense at the start of the play, as you watch you will find that the artwork perfectly represents each character’s main emotion.

The performances by all the cast members are very strong and believable. Each one has his or her own distinct personality as an actor, and it comes through wonderfully in the play. There is not a dull moment while watching these actors, especially during intermission when they do some improv as the audience members stretch their legs. The performances of the step-daughter (Alicia Trider) and the father (Brent Stansall) are especially impressive. They are so involved in their roles that you will forget that you are watching a play and will want to reach out to them – not as actors playing a part – but as people.

After seeing the play you will form you own idea of what Pirandello was trying to say. The one theme that subtly runs through the entire play is a possible answer – are we really who we think we are, or are we merely victims of circumstance?

6 Characters in Search of an Author will be performed at Downstage Lisner Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets cost $3 for students and $5 for non-students.

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