“Six Characters in Search of An Author” Presented by Seattle Theatre Works

The reason I love Pirandello so much is the manner in which he plays with reality and illusion. And I think his best play is “Six Characters in Search of an Author.” Until July 25 you can see this masterful piece at the Erickson Theatre. If you, as do I, love theatrical brain-games, theatre that teases as it titillates you’ll find lots to like here.

Daniel Tarker, who directed the work, has also made some adaptations that set it squarely in modern times and in Seattle. The local and contemporary references come when least expected, and add immeasurably to the fun. But you must realize that this is as thoughtful and philosophical as it is fun.

It’s a play within a play within a play. It opens as actors and their director and stage manager arrive on an empty stage for early rehearsals of their next production. In it they will play avatars as in online games. They will wear masks. In this upcoming production real humanity will be hidden layers below what appears.

But then an oddly clothed, group of six “characters” suddenly shows up and disrupts the activity. Turns out they are indeed characters, not real people, and they need an author so that they can be accurately presented on stage. This is an absurdity. How can characters precede the play? Where’s the reality in this confusion?

The question of what in our lives is real and what is illusion hovers over the whole production. The characters spin out the story of their lives as the astonished actors try to make sense of it all. They try to interfere, but the characters insist on telling their story. So the actors listen and provide the needed props. The unreeling of the characters’ story goes on a bit too long, but the intellectual gamesmanship compensates.

Fine acting marks the production. Among the troupe, a couple of standouts must be mentioned. Sarah Milici as the character Stepdaughter is simply amazing. She’s like a vulnerable bird, but, when called for, she displays a tenacity and fierceness that you wouldn’t want to challenge. Peter Cook as the character Father brings reason and passion to his account of dirty doings. Such a nice man couldn’t possibly be vile . . . or could he?

Reality! Illusion!┬áThere’s so much┬áto please you in this production of Pirandello’s masterpiece. Although he’s not as well known today as are some of his contemporaries, he did win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1934.

Through July 25, at The Erickson Theatre, 1524 Harvard Ave., Seattle, (seattletheatreworks.org)

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