Cast of Naked, a play by Luigi Pirandello at the Gene Frankel Theater
The Themantics Group is a new downtown company devoted to presenting seasonal work with a particular social or political theme.
I co-founded the company with actor/producer, Jay Aubrey in 2002, says artistic director, Blake Edwards. We knew each other from Chicago, where I had cast Jay in a play. Then we worked together here on Shopping and F******, which was very successful. We had similar ideas and decided to start a company, because we felt there was a lack of theater that spoke to current issues. Our mission is to pick a theme each season and examine it, to consider the implication of things as an opening for dialogue.
For their first official offering, the company has chosen Luigi Pirandellos play, Naked, a psychological drama involving the media which was written in 1922.
Although he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, Pirandello is not done that often, Edwards explains. People here seem only to know him for Six Characters in Search of An Author. Socially and politically, he didnt shy away from anything around him, yet Naked feels like it was written just five years ago.
According to Edwards, her own connection to Pirandello began last summer when she was pregnant with twins and confined to bed, with only the TV linking her to the outside world.
I became fascinated by how we get sucked into the media and the lives of others, she recalls. It brought up the question of whether it is we or the media who creates this need. Then I found this play of Pirandellos that addresses the issue directly. This isnt one of his well-known works, so were excited to be reviving it. Weve found a brand new translation by Nina da Vinci Nichols, which is American-friendly and truer to his style. He called his plays tragical farces, and this is certainly one.
The plot of Naked involves a nanny, under whose care a child dies. Ersilia is banished, and after also learning that her ex-fiance is engaged, she tries to commit suicide, but ends up in a hospital. After a journalist appears on the scene, her story is sensationalized, and things quickly spiral out of control.
Naked may be from the 20s, but these stories about nannies have been happening in the past couple of years, Edwards notes, so it doesnt feel like an old play. It just sits here naturally. All of Pirandellos work is funny, but also poignant. There is commentary and philosophy, but theyre also really plays. And theyre tremendously theatrical, which as a director, is important to me. This is work which really must be performed in a theater.
Technical support for the show includes an offbeat set with a forced perspective for the audience. Theres a sense of public watching here, so its almost visually skewed. Haunting, dissonant piano music adds to the ambiance, as do the costumes, which enhance the archetypal representation of characters.
Because this is our debut production, its challenging to be both artistic director and directing the play, says Edwards. Plus, balancing the tone of Pirandellos humor and tragedy isnt easy. Ive been lucky to have very gifted actors like Gerrianne Raphael and Timothy Warmen, and the whole group has been amazing.
Im hoping we clearly address this issue of whether our identity is created through the eyes of others, or do we create our own, she adds. Id like people to go home, watch the news and think about that. Are we seeing fact or something created to elicit a response from us? Its very much in the moment.