Six Degrees of Separation
nytheatre.com review by Debbie Hoodiman Beaudin
September 16, 2007
As anyone familiar with John Guare's 1990 play Six Degrees of Separation knows, the story begins when a young black man unexpectedly shows up at a wealthy white couple's New York City apartment, claiming to be the son of Sidney Poitier. He charms them with stories about their children (whom he says he knows) and about his famous father. He makes them feel very special while also helping them close a very important financial deal. What follows is a thrilling, funny, strange, and compelling story about manners and class and also the search for connections.
The Gallery Players' quick-paced production, directed by Tom Wojtunik, is top-notch—as theatergoers have come to expect from this company. From the first moments of this play, I knew the production would be successful. Under Wojtunik's direction, Laura Heidinger and Mark Hattan as Ouisa and Flan, the rich couple, open the play by instantly creating the necessary air of privilege and wealth that their characters possess. They handle Guare's sharp dialogue—which demands a lot of overlap and moving from conversation with one another to aside lines—quickly, comically, and sincerely.
When Paul (Richard Prioleau) enters the scene, his shirt bloody from a stab wound, he is instantly charming and also creates the air of class which convinces Ouisa and Flan of his privilege. He is a formidable actor, charming and emotional. He handles the difficult role of Paul very convincingly, with proper nuance and depth.
Tim McMath's set—a posh living room with plush white carpet, a glass coffee table, and strange art artifacts—captures the couple's rich lifestyle. An enormous, two-sided painting, which hangs above the apartment and turns to show its other side, is particularly wonderful. Upstage, there are two spaces, covered by scrims, in which other actors can appear to play out scenes or speak monologues—creating a cool, multi-screen effect. I loved the hands that reach out from the wings of the theater to grab coats or to show props.
The supporting players also handle their roles well. Justin Herfel plays a proper, no-nonsense New York City detective. Joe Moretti is hilarious as a shameless hustler. Jacqueline van Biene as Elizabeth and Ben Roberts as Rick broke my heart with their gullible generosity. Jamee Vance and Kevin Kelleher, as Kitty and Larkin, a kind of foil couple for Ouisa and Flan, make a convincing pair who had also been deceived by Paul. Craig Jessup's Trent has a sincere stake in wanting to open up the privileged world to Paul.
I did, however, have trouble with the actors who played the couples' children. Although I appreciated the stylized gestures of the children—the slouching posture and bored looks meant to help show how spoiled they are—I felt that they seemed too broad and not as sincere as the leads' performances. I especially wanted Jonathan Gregg as Woody and Tommy Buck as Ben to nail their scenes, but they seemed one-note, and perhaps under-directed.
The final scene of the play, when Ouisa questions what it all means—and she desperately wants it to mean something lasting—really brings the show home. I really felt how much she wants to do the right thing and how disappointed she is at how it turns out.
Overall, an audience member cannot go wrong by checking out this production of Six Degrees. The story is so good—aptly described as "parts drama and farce"—and it really kept me wanting to know what would happen (even though I've seen the movie!). The play runs 90 minutes without intermission, and the plot twists and turns, always keeping the audience interested.