September 12, 2001
Pirandello's name may still be invoked as shorthand for "self-referential," but it's a safe bet that his convention-shattering early 20th century plays are more often invoked than performed these days.
Besides, what news could Pirandello possibly deliver about the line between fiction and reality to audiences who've seen Fellini, let alone "Survivor"?
The best thing about director Robert Benedetti's so-so new update of Pirandello's greatest play, here titled "Six Characters Looking for a Writer," is that it proves the original's profound durability. When a family of tragically half-formed characters bursts in on a theater rehearsal, they represent an existential quandary: Essentially they're appealing to a lesser authority because their higher authority--their creator--has left them unfinished but still craving meaning, structure, narrative. (Cue Godot.)
This is strong enough stuff to survive Benedetti's minor tweaks and asides: references to reality TV, Method acting, Buddhism and theater subscribers, and a semisuccessful video feed (smooth videography by co-director David Lee Kelting).
Thankfully, most of the performances are solid. As the family's ineffectual patriarch, Daniel Tamm has unshakable gravity, and as his resentful stepdaughter, Beth Tapper is furiously present. As actors at rehearsal, flinty Irene Roseen and clueless George Christopoulos have their moments.
A less fortunate choice is broad, blustering Donna Pieroni in the central role of the Director; the gender change is not a problem, but Pieroni's flouncing, ladies-who-lunch hauteur is. That's what you get when you appeal to a lesser authority.
"Six Characters Looking for a Writer," Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Oct. 19 and Nov. 2, 3 p.m. Ends Nov. 2. $20.50-22.50. (310) 477-2055. Running time: 1 hour.