The so-called 'trilogia del metateatro' (‘theatre within the theatre’ trilogy) is composed by the three plays Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore, performed for the first time at Teatro Valle, Rome, on 9th May 1921; Ciascuno a suo modo, performed for the first time at Teatro dei Filodrammatici, Milan, on 22nd May 1924; and Questa sera si recita a soggetto, performed for the first time at Neues Schauspielhaus, Königsberg, on 25th January 1930, and in Italy at Teatro di Torino on 14th April 1930. It is called ‘theatre within the theatre’ trilogy because it is grounded in a reflection upon dramatic structures. In Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore, six characters interrupt the rehersal of a play, by Pirandello, which is about to begin, asking the capocomico to complete and perform their story, but when they see it performed they do not recognize themselves in the actors playing their parts. In Ciascuno a suo modo, ‘real’ characters see their story staged by a theatre company, being among the audience. In Questa sera si recita a soggetto a theatre company is about to perform a novel by Pirandello, which their capocomico Hinkfuss has adapted into a play. However, they do not agree with his acting method ‘a soggetto’ (unscripted), and to protest against it they make up lines and scenes.
The ‘arte di Stato’: Modernity and Modernization
The Boundaries of Realism: Constructing Collective Subjectivities
The ‘theatre within the theatre’ trilogy constitutes the most significant synthesis of Pirandello’s efforts of renewal and modernization of theatre, not only in terms of themes and contents, but also in its theoretical foundations, techniques, and performance practices. The trilogy reflects upon, and questions, foundational elements and conventions of theatre. At the same time, it experiments with staging techniques, for instance simulating dialogues between the actors and the audience, crossing the traditional spatial boundaries of the stage, and locating parts of the dramatic action off the stage, in extra-scenic spaces such as the stalls, the dais, the corridors, and the foyer (such practices are present both in Ciascuno a suo modo and in Questa sera si recita a soggetto). Traditional dramatic structures are rationally and critically deconstructed and the playwright attempts to remove the notion of the ‘fourth wall’, which is the invisible wall between the actors and the audience, paving the way for avant-garde experiments.
Both dramatic writing and performance are questioned from different angles, in all three plays. The action of Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore begins in the middle of the rehearsal of another play by Pirandello, Il gioco delle parti (self-citation is a recurring element of Pirandello’s theatre within the theatre, present also in Questa sera si recita a soggetto). The rehearsal is interrupted by a group of ‘characters’ generically defined (the Father, the Mother, the Stepdaughter, etc.), who tell their tragic story and ask the company to stage it. The discussions that originate from this request, as well as from the performance, address the crucial questions of the relationship between the written play and the performance, between theatre and reality, between essence and appearance, as well as the role of the actor, staging conventions, and acting techniques.
The relationship between the ‘director’, or capocomico, and the actors is drawn attention to in Questa sera si recita a soggetto, which presents and opposes divergent positions on different modes of performing a dramatic action for which a script does not exist, and which is therefore not based on a written text. The relationship between reality and theatrical fiction is also the central question addressed in Ciascuno a suo modo, in which the protagonists of a real story attend a performance of that same story; comments and discussions on the performance alternate and blend with the performance itself. Besides the meta-theatrical questions, the great Pirandellian themes of incommunicability, solitude, the multiplicity of the self, and cognitive and psychological relativism are central to the trilogy; and the medium of theatre is particularly suitable to represent and reflect upon these themes. Pirandello brought about a process of renewal of both dramaturgical forms as well as staging and acting practices, which was crucial for 20th century theatre. While by no means producing political or propaganda artworks, his ambition to direct a ‘teatro di stato’ under fascism is well-known (although it was never fully realized), and his company of 'Teatro d’arte' was directly funded by Mussolini. It can be argued, in accordance with scholar Patricia Gaborik, that Pirandello, his theatre and his company represented for Mussolini the ideal synergy between fascism and the arts: able to produce high-quality and internationally renowned works of art, not explicitly political but working under the auspices of the regime, committed to the modernization of artistic forms and practices, and popular with the public. Mussolini could also, at least up to a certain point, count on Pirandello’s vocal support for fascism, especially during his company’s international tours. Pirandello told Mussolini that he would undertake a ‘direct political action’ through conferences and interviews abroad. During the incredibly successful tour that took Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore to Europe and then to the rest of the world, Pirandello effectively presented himself as the initiator of a new theatre, and declared his allegiance to Mussolini and the regime (Gaborik 2012, 539-540).
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