Arts

​‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’ is self-referential delight

Camden Ebert (above) and Jack Gammie played the young brother and sister, who said almost nothing during the show and yet delivered some of the strongest performances of the night.

Image By: Photo Courtesy of University Theatre

Performances of University Theatre’s personalized version of Luigi Pirandello’s haunting play “Six Characters in Search of an Author” will be held through Oct. 28, and the production has yet to disappoint. Cast members have delivered chilling performances supported by attention-capturing staging since its opening on Oct. 11.

Born in a time of government-fabricated reality (the increasingly-fascist Italy of 1921), “Six Characters in Search of an Author” exposes the complexity of living in a setting where truth is often indiscernible from fiction. This theme remains relevant as over-consumption of media confounds our current society’s sense of what’s real.

The meta-theatrical play is set in its actual location: the Gilbert V. Hemsley Theatre, and actors Alexandria Chapes, Allison Garfield, Bri Hunter, Clare Loughran and Kyle Thompson play themselves: modern-day UW-Madison students in a theater troupe. In the very beginning, the actors are intentionally so nonchalant that many audience members failed to notice that the play had started.

The play continues to be self-referential for around the first quarter of its runtime, mentioning that audience members are most likely receiving class credit for attending and poking fun at UW groups and the student actors in the play themselves. While this take was fresh and unexpected at first, the bit grew old quickly and left me wondering when the actual show would start.

Finally, freshman Philip Klinker appeared dressed in a dapper ‘20s-era suit and made his University Theatre debut with the cryptic line, “We are seeking an author,” setting the play in motion.

Klinker personified the father in a historical family of characters who materialized soon after he did, looking altogether turbulent and somewhat sinister. Dressed in black, brown and white, the family was an eye-catching contrast to the theater troupe’s modern apparel.


Camden Ebert and Jack Gammie played the young brother and sister, who said almost nothing during the show and yet delivered some of the strongest performances of the night. Mallory Lewis and Klinker played the mother and father of Brandon Pena, the eldest son. Erin Wathen portrayed Klinker’s step-daughter (Lewis’s daughter from new husband — and Klinker’s once-assistant).

The complexities of these relationships were revealed as the family convinced the UW theater troupe to take on the arduous task of writing and performing their story.

Klinker narrates the beginning of their twisted story, and soon the family members decide to act out some of the crucial moments of their melodrama. The tension builds to a passionate extreme when Klinker and Wathen act out their meeting in a brothel where Wathen was a prostitute and Klinker was the client.

The fictional family members delivered strong performances all around, but none more than Lewis, whose agonized shriek at the sight of Klinker and Wathen’s almost-encounter brought tears to my eyes.

Being a constantly-tortured character, the mother could have come across as whiny and over-the-top obnoxious, but Lewis’s skillful delivery allowed me to empathize with her, even before I totally understood what she was upset about.

Other stand-out performers included Ebert and Gammie, neither of whom are in high school yet. Their unbreakable focus during the most impassioned scenes allowed them to exceed expectations and become crowd-favorite characters while remaining completely mute.

Throughout the entirety of the play, the staging was a standout feature and heightened every fervent moment. Director David Kersnar did a phenomenal job at times emphasizing and in other moments down-playing the juxtaposition between the “real” present-day characters and the “fictional” characters, allowing confusion to occur about what was real and what it meant to be real in the first place.

One of the most powerful images of the show was the family standing on a box upstage and center with “This is not a family” written along the side of their platform.

All of the actors artfully developed their characters even when they weren’t explicitly speaking or the center focus for the scene. Only some audience members probably noticed Klinker quizzically examining a MacBook or Loughran interacting with audience members as her character — co-director of the developing show — but each of these moments made the play feel more intimate and brought the characters to life.

The show recovered from its slow start quickly and gracefully with the introduction of Klinker and the family of characters, and it progressed smoothly from then on. Nerves heightened until the captivating climactic and final moment, which was so heartbreakingly sudden that it sent audience members home still recovering from the shock.

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