To induce a change in the way in which the audience and the performers in realist plays view their own lives, Luigi Pirandello in his play “Six Characters in search of an author” intentionally goes against the dictates set in place by the realists in the manner he creates the story in the play.
Being a member of the Theatricalists who disapproved the ideas of realists, Luigi intentionally alters the plot structure, the portrayal of the characters, the thematic development, the language as well as the portrayal of spectacle with the intention of restoring the defining tools of drama that the introduction of realism in theater had taken away.
The plot structure is a complex one with breaks in between attracting criticism as a result from many people who declare it so messy to an extent that the audience strain to follow the story. This is intentional in that the playwright wants the audience not to reflect the story and simply sympathize with the actors situations but to perceive them as representing their own situations and their worldview.
This aims at breaking the barrier between them and the performance on the stage. There are irrational breaks and bare stage sections that are intentional in the plot. The author creates this to give time to the members of the audience to reflect about the action that they have just witnessed in the previous act.
The fact that the six characters enter and hijack the process is evidence that the audience who expected the actors to perform the play they are rehearsing are left wondering whether they are indeed watching a play or a piece of reality. There is the aspect of a play inside a play, which works at making the performance really look genuine and consequently making the audience identify with the happenings, which they deem to be reflecting their worldview.
In his portrayal of the characters in the play, Luigi succeeds in the effort to create direct interaction with the audience where he substitutes the actors with the characters occasionally. This makes the audience realize that they are watching a real happening that the actors would have otherwise distorted, as revealed when the actors get the chance to act the story of the characters and instead struggle in vain.
The actors in the play become mere spectators and their interaction with the characters brings a new dimension into the purpose of theater. This is whereby theater ought to impact on the minds of the audience making them to think about their conditions rather than creating catharsis. Since the audience relates more on the happenings of the story performed by the characters than the actors do, they tend to think of the story more as they relate it to reality than when the actors perform it.
In the presentation of the spectacle, Luigi Pirandello reveals the conflicts existing in the theater. These are the conflicts between the characters, the actors, the director and the missing author.
There are so many things brought up in this play that reflect the aspects of daily life and in fact communicate with the audience including the rehearsals that are left hanging, the sketchy characters as well as the set that seem hastily assembled. These are what the manager calls ‘a glorious failure’ (Pirandello I.i.32). By doing this, the play dismantles the dictates set by the ‘well made play’ with the purpose of invoking criticism of the spectacle from the audience.
The language as revealed in the dialogue in the play reveals the conflict in the society. The author depicts the claim using the symbol of the theater whereby the conflict is allegorical of the theater. The continuous conflict between the characters, the actors and the director reveal the turmoil that exists in the theatre.
For instance the man says “Oh, if you would only go away, go away and leave us alone—mother here with that son of hers—I with that Child—that Boy there always alone—and then I alone, alone in those shadows!” (Pirandello I.ii.22) This introduces the notion that despite the fact that most things seem to be in tranquility, there is always an underlying conflict. This makes the audience of the play to reflect more on the implications of the story to their own lives.
To direct attention to the acts of immorality that continuously damage the image of the Catholic Church, Patrick Shanley in his play introduces a new way of looking into the happenings concealed beneath the seemingly serene image of the church. “Doubt: A Parable” invites the audience into seeking the truth that is concealed from them as they sympathize with sister Aloysius.
Sister Aloysius is the protagonist in this play who seeks to uncover the evils committed by the new priest Fr. Flynn. Sister Aloysius is confident that Fr. Flynn is guilty of the offences she uses to accuse him.
Through the conflict between sister Aloysius and Fr. Flynn, the play uncovers an interesting secret whereby rather than receiving support to end the evil, sister Aloysius is shocked when Fr. Flynn is instead transferred to another parish. Whether he is guilty or not remains a matter of contemplation in the minds of sister Aloysius as well as the audience.
The charges that sister Aloysius hold against the priest is that he has taken advantage of a young boy in eighth grade and abused him sexually. Sister Aloysius is constantly seeking evidence to implicate the priest. She even associates minor details of his nature to the possibility of having committed the said charges. Fr. Flynn is a charismatic priest who is new to the parish and who is fond of using parables in his preaching. He in fact preaches about the importance of uncertainty.
He says “Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty,”(Shanley I.i.12) Sister Aloysius goes to the extent of lying to Fr. Flynn that she called his previous parish and that she is aware of the real reason that transpired to his being moved to the new parish. This claim does the thing since after hearing this Fr. Flynn calls the Bishop and asks for reassignment to another parish, which happens immediately.
Sister Aloysius confides to Sister James who is Donald Muller’s class teacher that she is doubtful. She says ‘”I have doubts… I have such doubts!”(Shanley II.i.22) It therefore remains to be doubtful whether it is the lie or the fear that he was about to be uncovered that made him to seek the reassignment.
Considering the context when the play was being written, Patrick Shanley intended this play to trigger discussions about the extent to which the Catholic Church was facing criticism for its relenting efforts in the fight against sexual evils such adultery and sexual harassment. It is through the events of the play that Shanley creates the realization to the public that there might actually be another side of the story.
Shanley, John. Doubt: A Parable. New York: Theatre Communications, 2005.
Pirandello, Luigi. Six Characters in Search of an Author. London: Nick Hern Books, 2003.