This play was on the required reading list for my modern drama course, and although I’d never heard of the play or the playwright before the class, the title had me intrigued immediately. It sounded likes something philosophical – as though we were the characters looking for something bigger in the universe that would provide some great plan to life. And for the first time in my life, I actually wasn’t that far off.
Six Characters in Search of an Author takes place on a stage – the very stage on which you would be watching the performance. On the stage there are actors and a manager who are all preparing to put on a show. That’s when six characters come into the scene and demand that the manager put on a play that tells their story. The nameless characters tell the manager the details of their story and insist that everything be exactly as it really happened. Unfortunately, certain things cannot be staged as they actually happen, for instance two things happening at the same time in different places.
The metatheatricality is a thing of beauty. I love the idea that the stage itself is a set. The intermission would be signaled by the “actors” saying they need a break and all of the characters (including the “actors” and the “manager”) walk offstage. The entire performance is put on as though it is something really happening before your eyes – because it actually is something really happening before your eyes.
Confused yet? I promise that this review makes it sound more complicated than it is. When you actually read Six Characters, you’ll find yourself getting it more easily as the plot goes directly to your understanding of it.
The play uses metatheatricality to explain the art of theatre as an art that can only exist in the moment. The “characters” can only exist while they are on this particular stage, saying those particular words. They require this greater plan that is the words of the play to be personified. I also grasped this concept in a theological sense: people looking at their existence only in the context of some bigger plan.
If you’re up for it, Six Characters is one of my favourite plays, and I highly suggest you give it a read. Your mind will be blown.