That’s absurd! Batavia Players tackle ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’

Mar 8, 2018

BATAVIA – Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore.

That’s how it first appeared when penned by Italian writer Luigi Pirandello in 1921. A year later, the work, “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” made its American debut on Broadway. Fast forward to the 21st Century when Kenmore director Anthony Baldwin-Giambrone couldn’t wait to showcase the play after reading it in college.

“I fell in love with it. It kind of challenges that whole notion of … is it real or not,” he said during a Batavia Players rehearsal Sunday at the Harvester Theater, 56 Harvester Ave. “I always thought about it in the back of my head. There are some definite surprises; some are mentioned blatantly, but the show is written so beautifully the audience is surprised later on.”

Dubbed as a piece of “absurdist metatheatrical” drama, this play goes on at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday at the theater. True to its title, it features six characters that appear in the middle of a play rehearsal begging for a chance to come to life after being thrown away by the author. They are in search of an ending to their story. The Director initially believes them to be mad, but as they begin to argue among themselves and reveal details of their story, he begins to listen.

Baldwin-Giambrone, while pursuing an education degree with a theater minor at Niagara University, saw the play unfold in a zany plot that mixes the 1900s characters with a more contemporary cast. As the rehearsal is about to begin, the characters enter, angering the director with the unexpected interruption.

Most of the 18-member cast are on the 16.5-by-20-foot stage throughout the show, which has proven to be a challenge for the director. Actors range from pre-schooler to sage adults.

“Some have long lines, some have short lines, and all are important people,” he said. “I want to keep everyone looking interesting and keep a good flow.”

Batavia Players Board Vice President Michele Stamp is usually behind the scenes, but this time she plays the manager on stage. Not exactly a stretch, she admitted, due to her involvement in every show since the beginning, from building the sets and serving as stage manager to overseeing a redecorating project at the theater.

“I love to direct plays because I like to see things come to life in my own vision,” she said. “It’s been wonderful, there are some amazing people on stage. It’s easy to play off of them, and watching the characters become altered.”

When she first read through the work, Stamp wondered “what did I sign up for?” There is some inappropriate contact between family members and dark subject matter including a suicide, a youth dying and serious abusiveness of the father. As a way of self-preservation, the manager determines that the characters aren’t real as she complains “I’ve wasted a day on these people” regarding those that died.

Played by Medina actor Richard Ferris, “The Father” has the most lines in the show. Wrought with emotional turbulence, it was a role that Ferris tried out for.

“It’s a very compelling character, very misogynistic and very abusive,” he said. “He vacillates between philosophizing about some very emotional topics … it’s his way to justify his own actions. I think it’s a fascinating show.”

Despite some troubling morose scenes, the playwright seemed to know when to offer moments of levity, Ferris said. For example, there’s a scene where the father and stepdaughter meet up at a brothel and nearly take their relationship beyond platonic. A next scene features the “leading man” and “leading woman,” both whose acting is so over the top it becomes a “very funny” episode.

“That keeps it from becoming depressing,” Ferris said.

He estimates spending up to 100 hours so far learning his lengthy part. He channeled his own childhood of growing up in an abusive, alcoholic family to mold the father’s persona. That was all part of his internal focal point.

“Imagining the stage and how it was set up. It was easier than sitting and memorizing the lines,” he said. “It’s a very avant-garde show.”

The role of “the Child” is split between two youngsters so as not to tucker out either one of them with ongoing rehearsals and the nearly two-hour performance. The Child doesn’t know how to talk and is required to sit very still for periods of time on stage. Jacob Corona, a first-grader in Irondequoit, said the role was unusually awkward for him.

“I’m kind of a wiggly worm,” he said with a shy smile.

Although Jacob is but 6 years old, this show is not recommended for young viewers.

Tickets are $13 for adults and $10 for students and seniors and are available through DailyNewsTickets.com.

By Joanne Beck, Batavia Daily News