A bell rings to announce that the actors should return to the stage. The Step-Daughter emerges from the manager's office along with the young boy and the little girl. She turns to the girl and tells her that they are on a stage, and that they will play their roles. She then turns on the boy and tells him he should have shot the father or the son rather then himself. He has a revolver in his pocket that he is hiding.
The father and manager emerge and call her back into the office while the mother and son come out. The mother pleads with the son to take pity on her, but he is furious that they want to put the entire scandal of his family life on the stage and thus refuses to listen to her.
The manager comes out again and has his machinist set up the stage as a single room, meant to represent Madame Pace's shop. He then hands out sheets to the actors and asks the prompter to take down the lines of the characters in shorthand. The father and the other characters are offended when they realize that the manager expects to have the actors play their parts. The father tells the manager that the actors will never be as realistic as they themselves are, since they are the actual characters that the actors are hoping to become. The manager brushes off this criticism and tells them to start the scene.
He soon realizes that Madame Pace is missing and asks the father where she is. The father asks the actresses for their hats and puts them on the hat pegs. He also takes a cloak and hangs it up as well. The manager asks what he is doing, and the father tells him he is arranging the stage so Madame Pace will show up. Sure enough, she arrives and the step-daughter runs over to her. The scene starts with them speaking to one another, but so quietly that no one can hear them.
The manager yells at them to speak louder and the step-daughter tells him they cannot because they must prevent the father from hearing them. When the Mother realizes what is about to be enacted she jumps up and tries to prevent the scene, but is restrained. The Step-Daughter takes over and finishes her scene with Madame Pace who exits at the end. The father then enters and starts to play the scene with his Step-Daughter.
The father tries to seduce her, but she points out that she is in mourning. The manager interrupts them and has the actors go and prepare to imitate the scene that they have just watched. The Step-Daughter and father burst out laughing when they see them pretend to do the scene. The manager tells them to be quiet, but a few moments later they again protest that it is all wrong. The manager finally gives up and tells them to continue the scene themselves.
The Step-Daughter starts to play her role, expecting the father to ask her to remove her frock. The manager is mortified that it will seem inappropriate to stage such a scene in the theater and tries to cut it. The girl protests, and the mother, overcome with emotion, bursts out crying. The manager agrees to allow them to continue the scene and the step-daughter places her head on the father's chest, holding him while the mother bursts onto the stage screaming and calling him a brute.
Pirandello takes advantage of this act to attack two things: the setting and the director. The characters are horrified when they realize that the setting is not at all realistic, it is not the way that they remember it. This represents the physical difference in location between the theater and the actual place that the events were meant to take place. The theater cannot overcome this limitation and must therefore remain fake. The manager's willingness to cut and rearrange the scene is also attacked quite vehemently by all the actors. The father argues that truth must be played, in its unalterable form. This is a direct attack by Pirandello on conceptual directors who cut and alter an author's work.
Two more struggles emerge in this act. There is primarily a struggle between the characters (tragic) and the actors (comic). This is complemented by a secondary philosophical struggle to ascertain who is more real, the fictional characters or the real actors. The father says, "What, haven't we our own temperaments, our own souls?" He is pointing out that as characters they are more real in their parts than the actors can ever be, whereas the actors are claiming that he can never be "real" because he cannot change his reality.
There are therefore two realities: one consisting of the actors and their props, and one comprised of the characters. This dual reality is seen in Mdm. Pace's dress shop where the scene is first played by the characters and then acted by the actors. The furious disapproval of the way the scene is acted heightens the tension between the two realities: what is real is not necessarily "real" in any sense.
This leads Pirandello to a form of relativity of truth in this act. The manager claims, "Acting is our business here. Truth up to a certain point, but no further." He is unwilling to concede that the stage is always trying to show truth. Pirandello is essentially mocking the hypocrisy with which truth is made to fit the stage and then presented as if it were the real truth.