Nevada Conservatory gives ‘Six Characters’ new life

Six Characters in Search of an Author at Judy Bayley Theatre
Molly O'Donnell

Four stars

Six Characters in Search of an Author Through March 1; Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; $20-$30. Judy Bayley Theatre, 702-895-2787.

When you walk into the theater for Nevada Conservatory’s latest show, you just know this isn’t going to be your average night. The entire stage, including what would normally be hidden—light stands, cellophane-wrapped set pieces, stage hands hammering away—is out in the open. The house lights, usually cloaking the audience, are up. All of this serves as a metaphor in Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, where the audience is given a front-row seat in the creative process. This production’s fresh comic and pop-culture take on the process updates the original drama’s playful side, providing a welcome counter-note to the absurdity while underscoring the work’s exploration of art.

As the title suggests, this play is all about character. Its premise has a very contemporary feel: What if an author creates six fully realized characters and then abandons them? They search for a new author to write their tale. In this way, Six Characters is a play within a play, where the outer narrative—a modern company rehearsing a comedy—is interrupted by the six and their tragedy of recognition and reversal.

Drawn in by this narrative, the director is willing to play along, convinced that the characters are acting out an elaborate pitch to sell their play. When he agrees to produce it and casts his company members, the more philosophical questions about truth and the mutability of identity are explored. Where these heady questions intentionally upstage the plot is also where the play occasionally feels heavy. But this might be going too far to find fault in an otherwise good production that offers both comedy and tragedy, not to mention dance numbers that explicate these hard questions.

If the deep ponderances of art production make your head spin (perhaps partly because there’s no intermission), there’s plenty to offset them. Excellent performances by the tantalizing and frustrating leads, played by Jasmine Mathews and Oliver Wadsworth, carry the drama movingly to the end. And Jean Randich’s skillful direction of the large cast and all its moving parts is enhanced by a quality set and impressive effects.

So put your thinking cap on, and a clean shirt (to accommodate for the lighting). This show matches the academic with the entertaining.

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