Right You Are If You Think You Are

At Tufts Arena Theatre, Medford, through Saturday

The whole truth and nothing but the truth. how often we hear these words, and how often people glibly swear to fulfil them! But can we ever determine truth that will be acceptable to everybody? No, said Luigi Pirandello.

The problem of reality vs. illusion, absolutism vs. relativism, the varying masks any person (the word "person" originally meant "mark") consciously or unconsciously presents to the rest of society--this is the theme that Pirandello turned to again and again and explored exhaustively from every conceivable point of view.

His classic and simplest presentation of the problem is the "parable" Rights you Are If You Think You Are (1981), which is enjoying a rare revival in nearby Medford. Though one of the earliest of his 40 plays, it is the first of his dozen supreme full-evening masterpieces.

The explanation lies in the fact that, like the composer Rameau, Pirandello first turned to the stage at the age of 50, and there wrought his finest work. He had begun as a poet, and then gained renown as a novelist. So he had plenty of writing experience when he decided the theatre was his true metier.

As a result he became, with O'Neill, one of the two greatest dramatists of our century. and deservedly won the Noble Prize for literature (1943). Regrettably, he has lingered in limbo of late, and the Tufts Arens Theatre is showing us what we are losing thereby.

Although written in only six days, Night You Are is a marvel of structural craftsmanship over and above its meaty and profound content. Time and again Pirandello leads his plot into seemingly impossible situations, only to wriggle out of them with twists of genius. And She play builds to one of the neatest and densest climaxes in all drama.

The townspeople of a provincial community, consumed with curiosity, are trying to find out the truth about three people who have moved into the neighborhood, refugees from an earthquake: young man, his wife, and his mother-in-law. Specifically, the question is: who is the man or the mother-in-law? For each of them explains quite convincingly that the other is insane and must humored. In between the townspeople and the strange trio stands Laudisi, who the author's mouthpiece.

Right You Are and the other plays in which Pirandello presents many kinds of acute mental aberration all take on in added dimension when one recalls that Pirandello's own wife went insane. Advised not to commit her to a sanitarium, he patiently and resignedly stayed home and pampered her, to no avail. For years, day after day, he wrote while she founded violently on his studio door, screamed threats, and huried accusations of infidelity. She also turned on her daughter, who then tried to commit suicide. Such a household would have destroyed a lesser man.

Under the direction of Marston Balch, the current performances by students and semi-professional players convey more than a minimal amount of the wondrous blend of humor and pathos in the script. And there are some fine moments in John McLean's Laudisi, Carroll Cole's mad (?) young man, and Barbara Joseph's mad (?) mother-in-law.

Throughout the evening there hangs illuminated over Donald Mullin's settings a word well known to Cantabrigians: veritas. "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free," it was proclaimed. Alas, then, we are prisoners forever