Monday, April 4, 2016

Review: Searching for Family

Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters In Search of An Author is a staple for theater artists as you’ve likely read or performed the play at least once in your career. The play follows six lost people trying to find a home. Theodora Skipitares riffs off of Pirandello’s drama in Six Characters (a family album) exploring the uniqueness of family.
Staged at La Mama’s Ellen Stewart Theatre, Six Characters (a family album) is woefully ambitious. Using Pirandello as a jumping off point, Pirandello himself appears searching for answers as anthropologist Margaret Mead guides the audience on the intricacies of family from Ancient Greece to today. Finding inspiration from Pinocchio, Oedipus, “An American Family” and the Flint water crisis, Theodora Skipitares, who serves as conceiver, designer, and director, throws all of her eggs in a single basket to create a whimsical hodgepodge that looks fascinating. But looks can be deceiving. Using colossal puppets, lustrous orbs of light, and old-fashioned stagecraft, Six Characters was an interesting exploration of family with lackluster execution. Skipitares’ variations on family were singularly tied through the oddities of family. From a man hoping for a son through a little wooden boy to an uncouth romance between mother and son to America’s first reality TV family, Six Characters explored the timelessness of the ever-changing appearance of family. But where Skipitares took a sharp turn was the final movement set in present day. Skipitares’ discussion on the Flint water crisis had family at its core but it didn’t have the same feeling as the others. To end the evening with it felt emotionally manipulative. Compared to the rest of Six Characters, textually, it did not mesh.
photo by Theo Cote
The fascinating thing about Six Characters is how little the text played a part in comparison to the technical elements. Skipitares’ Six Characters is all about the visual experience. And that’s likely what will draw you to La Mama. Six Characters fits the experimental quota to a t. It’s clear Skipitares and her creative team spent much time discovering how exactly this world moved. And, for the most part, it was fluid. For those unfamiliar with the Ellen Stewart Theater, the space is ginormous. Skipitares broke the experience into two parts and two spaces. The evening begins in the front of the theater where a playing space has been crafted by pushing the stadium seating forward. Here, we’re immediately graced by Family 1, the overwhelming trio of giant Pinocchio puppets, each reminiscent of a pop culture version of the character. We also get Family 2, Oedipus and Jocasta, played on the top tier of the stadium seating using mask work. Upon conclusion, momentum is lost as we are escorted to the normal seating of the Ellen Stewart Theater for Families 3 through 6. This is home to light show. Each of the six families that Skipitares captures has its own unique appeal. Whether it be utilizing Donald Eastman’s scenic design, Skipitares’ puppets, or video by Kay Hines, each was exclusive to itself. But in an age of evolving theatrical technology, Six Characters felt cheap. It lacked the wow factor.
The performers of Six Characters (a family album) did a fine job creating Skipitares’ families but in the end, Six Characters (a family album) is a visiceral experience. While it may not have offered anything new, it solidified what we already knew. The importance of family.