To close out its outstanding season, A Noise Within has opened a mesmerizing production of “Six Characters in Search of an Author”. The play was a groundbreaking theatrical work written by Luigi Pirandello over eighty years ago and the breathtakingly brisk pace of the direction here makes it feel fresh and exciting. Performed without intermission, what first has you laughing along with the actors becomes a profound meditation on the nature of identity, illusion and reality.
The ANW ensemble has gathered on the mainstage to rehearse a scene from “Our Town” for their upcoming 25th season, kvetching playfully (inside and local jokes land particularly well with their loyal audience) when suddenly six strangers seem to appear out of nowhere. They are a huddled family in mourning dress-a father, a mother, a grown son and daughter and a young son and daughter. They have come to implore the actors and director to give life to their story and as their engrossing drama unfolds, the ensemble becomes enthralled and jumps into action to play their parts, taking the audience along for the ride.
Geoff Elliott is the guilt ridden yet seemingly narcissistic father whom he plays with pathos and urgency. Alison Elliott gives a strong, sexy and tormented performance as the grown daughter who is the most passionate about getting her story right. A devastating Abby Craden fills the theater with her crushing grief as the tragic mother and the always solid Rafael Goldstein is angrily twitchy as the mysterious, estranged son. Jack Elliott is poignant as the troubled and shy young son and a luminous Rigel Blue Pierce-English plays the little girl with joyful wonder and mystery. Robertson Dean plays the hammy actor/arrogant director with humor and exasperation and the ensemble is rounded out with the hilarious comic timing of June Caryl and the dry jadedness of Susan Angelo as the actresses, a young and sarcastic Abubaker Ali as the actor and Natalie Reiko as the competent, put-upon stage manager. They are exceptionally good and keep the audience guessing to the very end.
The design team has outdone themselves creating a banal rehearsal space that becomes infused with theatre magic through shadows, mirrors and movie screens that add a “Lumiere Brothers”, experimental quality to the experience. For that is what “Six Characters” really is; an experience; an inquiry into what and who is real and for whom. The characters are “born of an author’s fantasy” and “denied life by him.” For 85 uninterrupted minutes, in a darkened theatre, we come to know these fully imagined characters and the dark story they are destined to tell.
“Six Characters In Search of An Author” runs in repertory with “Romeo & Juliet” and “You Never Can Tell” through May 14. A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd., Pasadena. www.anoisewithin.org (626) 356-3100. Single tickets from $44. Student Rush with ID one hour before performance $20.