With its blurring of the lines between author and creation, Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author contains many themes that are well suited to be explored through the medium of puppetry. Theodora Skipitares’s play Six Characters (a family album), a response to Pirandello’s classic, strives to do just that on its own individuated terms. With anthropologist Margaret Meade as guide, the new play traces the sort of genealogical diaspora that is made up of family portraits, as it were, spread across time and space and scattered throughout a slew of texts ranging from The Adventures of Pinocchio to Oedipus to news reports about Flint, Michigan.
It is an interesting concept, allowing structurally for a kind of carnivalesque, intertextual shuffle through the interwoven lives of creatures in demand of artistic spheres in which to live and breathe. In tracing the connections that bridge the gaps between these character-creatures from one text to another, the connecting tissues that connect the otherwise seemingly disparate texts begin to be exposed. It is unfortunate, then, that Six Characters so frequently feels so very flat in its dynamic, or lack thereof. This has less to do with the scripted structure or the ideas explored therein, than it does to do with vocal deliveries that sound as if the hidden mouths behind them are simply bored or uncertain.
While the lingual roads are lacking the necessary emotive construction, however, they still travel through plenty of scenic terrain. The puppets, some of which are quite large, and the various media on display are all quite exquisitely crafted and adeptly manipulated, providing a certain visual feast that is as surreal as it is fun to look at. So much so, that from the three Pinocchios dancing around in the play’s prologue, one is mesmerized enough by the puppets themselves and would rather watch them move more and move more free from much of the distracting talk. The interplay between the puppets, the distorted and refracted video projections, and other media, in addition to the connotations and significations of the original texts appropriated here, do form enough fleshy nodes to grab onto throughout, leaving one wishing only for more enthusiastic verbal seasoning for to further intrigue the pallet and leaving a reminder that puppetry, like filmic animation, when it is at its best, tells its stories visually.