Last Sunday, my wife and I enjoyed the USD/San Diego City College co-production of credible by Lily Padilla and Alanna Bledman, loosely based on Six Characters in Search of an Author. Walking around the picture-perfect USD campus, I started to wonder what such a pristine, Catholic-based institution would make of Pirandello’s questions about the reality or illusion of faith, as represented in the oft-referred-to “book.”
Instead of addressing the huge theme of the nature of reality, Padilla and Bledman tackle smaller but urgent and timely slices of that theme: the reliability of memory and the conscious donning of illusion as a way to promote self-interested views of reality. In the playwrights’ note, Padilla and Bledman say they read the text of Six Characters during the Senate confirmation hearings for now-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. They say, “The question of who gets listened to, whose testimony is valid and credible and why was on the forefront of our minds. This play is what emerged from our relating to Pirandello’s text, a changing world, and what it means to be believed.”
There are many parallels with Six Characters: the framing device of staging a play, the appearance of spirit characters, the interactions between the “real-life” theatre people and the spirits, and the questions those spirits raise in the “real world.” More than Six Characters, though, credible felt to me like a short version of Rashomon, the 1950 film by director Akira Kurosawa. As in Rashomon, an alleged sexual assault forms the crux of multiple contradictory accounts of the event. And credible, like Rashomon (spoiler alert!), ends with no clear universal recognition of a single truth; its resolution lies in the imagination of viewers and how they combine accounts to derive a variety of truths.
Also, as in Rashomon, the story makes clear that something happened between several of the theatre people. In contrast, the theatre people in Six Characters become two-dimensional, with no past to speak of and minimal presence in the present. In the 1976 TV adaptation of Six Characters, a relationship between the Manager and the Leading Lady is implied, but not explored; credible delves deeper into that gender-based power dynamic, especially in the scenes with its “Director” and “Leading Lady.” I thought that was a nicely nuanced and relevant addition to Pirandello.
I felt using puppets to show the pivotal assault was extraordinarily effective. Dolls are used at times to aid in the investigation of sexual assaults and in some forms of PTSD therapy. To me, the use of puppets created an air of simultaneous fantasy and hyper-realism, and begged the question: are either truth?
As for me, I believe emotions are as close to individual truth as one can get. Joy, comfort, grief, may all be based on illusions, but the feelings themselves are real. So, perhaps contrary to the conclusion in credible, I believe that if you think you’re happy … you are.
credible. By Lily Padilla and Alanna Bledman, directed by Lisa Berger. The Studio Theatre, USD Campus, May 12, 2019, 2:00 performance.
Six Characters in Search of an Author. By Luigi Pirandello, adapted by Paul Avila Mayer, directed by Stacy Keach. Broadway Theatre Archive, 1976.
Rashomon. By Ryunosuke Akutagawa (story), Akira Kurosawa and Shinobi Hashimoto (screenplay), directed by Akira Kurosawa. Daiei Tokyo Studios, Japan, 1950, U.S. release 1951.