PSA XXXI – Pirandello in New York: “Raison d’être: An Evening of Pirandello”

In the Pirandello Society of America’s recent edition of the PSA journal, Jana O’Keefe Bazzoni talks to Jennifer Jewell and Patrick Mulryan about their recent collaboration on Raison d’être: An Evening with Pirandello. Jewell (actor and producer) and Mulryan (director and adaptor) tell PSA‘s O’Keefe Bazzoni about their experimental approach to Pirandello, as their 2018 theatre piece featured new translations and a collage of three plays: Six Characters in Search of an Author, Chee-Chee and The Man with a Flower in his Mouth.

Below is John L. DiGaetani’s review of the performance. You can find the entire conversation with Jewell and Mulryan, as well as this and other reviews in the 2019 PSA journal!

Pirandello in New York: “Raison d’être: An Evening of Pirandello”

John L. DiGaetani

 Hofstra University

“Raison d’être: An Evening of Pirandello” sounded suspiciously like a mish-mash to me when I read about the production, but when I saw the performance I was very pleased. The author of the adaptation, Patrick Mulryan, followed Six Characters in Search of an Author as a main text but used two other Pirandello plays to populate the stage with characters. Chee-Chee introduced the play and The Man with the Flower in his Mouth appeared toward the end. This all sounds very weird, but the combination made for a lively evening of Pirandellian theater. After all, Max Reinhardt’s production of the play in Berlin in the ’20s had already altered the play with the addition of details from other Pirandellian plays. The characters originally featuring in Six Characters are not the liveliest, and adding other elements can increase the effectiveness of the play. Pirandello himself was even willing to approve such adaptations.

Mulryan’s adaptation succeeded in keeping the audience interested in what was occurring onstage, despite a minimalist production and uneven acting.  The lighting was evocative and the stage was large—in the basement of a church in an off-Broadway location, in a theater called Theatre 71 at Blessed Sacrament. Though Pirandello was not known for being a good Catholic, Pirandellian theater happened here all the same.

In directing the play, Mulryan kept the action moving and the audience engaged.  Among the actors impersonating the six Characters, Nora Armani was especially moving as the Mother. Even though she had few lines, she was able to keep the audience interested in her and her suffering. The actor playing the Son, David Klein, was especially effective at dramatizing the cynical reserve of this character, while David Linden’s Father maintained a reserved innocence and kept defending it, despite the facts before him. Lucie Allouche’s Step-Daughter brought a convincing mania to her unhappy character. Toward the end, Melissa Eddy Quilty’s Madame Pace generated a comic, absurdist tragedy that altered the situation. Jennifer Jewell became especially moving as the Man with the Flower, bringing a clown-like comedy to his desperate monologue.

Overall, the performance succeeded in generating the comic absurdity so characteristic of Pirandellian tragedy. One hopes that this company will pursue and stage other examples in the history of Italian theater, as well. Venice in the 18th century remains a particularly fertile ground for Italian theater, with its two great Carlos: the realistic Carlo Goldoni and the surreal Carlo Gozzi, who had such a great effect on l9th and 20th century Italian and German opera—including on Pirandello himself.