Friday, January 15, 2010

Six Degrees of Separation by John Guare

By Joe Straw

Warning: There is full frontal male nudity in this production with (unsurprisingly) gay themes. Those easily offended should stay home and watch Fox News.

Six Degrees of Separation written by John Guare is a remarkable and captivating play about connection. “I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation. Between us and everybody else on this planet,” says Ouisa Kittredge (Joanna Chrugin) in this play.

Of course it is necessary to find the right six people.

Six Degrees of Separation directed by Don Schlossman and produced by Meredith M. Sweeney and Jordan Bland is presented by the Kentwood Players and performed at the Westchester Playhouse from January 8 through February 13, 2010.

John Guare has written a beautiful play that requires that requires your complete attention. And, as Ouisa is a dada manifesto, the play appears to be a grand comedic dada farce with exaggerated dada emotions of the dada heart. (More on this later.)

After listening to the oral ramblings of someone, who was recently introduced to culture in a short period of time, makes one wonder if any of the characters are really listening at all or if they are preoccupied with other motives.

The play opens with a frightened couple shaking in their bath robes; Ouisa Kittredge (Ms. Chrugin) and Fran Kittredge (Ken MacFarlane) are high rolling art dealers that speak to the audience about an intruder they had to throw out of their home. Fran’s concerns are his objects (perhaps his two sided Kandinsky) while Ouisa is only concerned for her up-scale scared life. Alas, nothing is missing and all body parts are intact.

The robes come off as Fran and Ouisa take us back in time. They are preparing for a night out with their rich British South African millionaire friend Geoffrey (Mark Mayes), (who hasn’t got a dime on him), in the hopes of enlisting him as a partner to provide two million dollar for a Cezanne painting as an investment for a future sale. With two kids in Harvard and one at Gorton, they need this sale.

“Geoffrey, you have to move out of South Africa. You’ll be killed. Why do you stay in South Africa?” asks Fran, to which Geoffrey answers “One has to stay there to educate the black workers and we’ll know we’ve been successful when they kill us.” Obviously, Fran is concerned about his well being second and the two million dollars first.

A stranger Paul (Willie Mack Daniels) enters their home with the support of the doorman (Dylan H. Bailey). Paul says a mugger has stabbed him. He knows the Kittredges, knows their children, and even attends Harvard with them. So he came seeking their help.

Paul, grateful for being bathed, dressed, and bandaged lets everyone know that he is the son of Sidney Poitier who is coming into town (in the morning) to direct the film version of Cats. Paul, a master chef, dazzles the guest with his cooking prowl ness (not seen on stage) and, as a compliment to the evening, he spouts a Dadaist Manifesto that means absolutely nothing. This captures the imagination of the Fran, Ouisa and Geoffrey. It is a night they will always remember until they don’t. In any case, everyone is happy because the Cezanne is as good as sold.

Grateful, the Kittredges beg Paul to stay the night and Paul, in exchange, promises them background “people” roles in Cats (Is anybody listening?). But there’s a problem later that night when Ouisa finds Paul in bed with a nude hustler (Marco Garcia). Ouisa shouts to the completely naked man, “He has a knife. He has a gun.” (A pat down against his skin reveals nothing.) Both Paul and the hustler are thrown out.

Later, a couple, Larkin (Jack Coppock) and Kitty (Ginny Kunz) visit Fran and Ouisa to tell them about their adventures with Paul Poitier and a naked burglar. (It plays out like a competition.) After, they chitchat about their similar experiences they call in a skeptical detective (Drew Fitzsimmons) and when he concludes that there is no crime and can't help they try to find a connection.

But the detective turns them on to Dr. Fine (Michael-Anthony Nozzi) who also has a similar story. So they enlist there un-cooperative kids, Tess (Tara Jean O’Brien) Woody (Nick Alspaugh) Ben (Kevin T. King) Doug (Andy Grosso) to find out how they are connected to this con-artist. And they find the connection: Trent Conway (Lorenzo Bastien) tells them he’s educated Paul, had an affair, and hasn’t seen him since.

Paul, in the meantime, is fleecing another naive young couple from Utah, Elizabeth (Meredith M. Sweeney) and Rick (Ryan Knight). Daniels as Paul was captivating for the first five minutes but the role became very stilted and one-dimensional and his choices not imaginative. Articulate, and with a stage presence, but not convincing as the young son of Sidney Poitier. (Think Sidney in Lillies of the Field.) But his impression as an older Sidney Poitier hit the mark and was enjoyable!

Sweeney and Knight as the Utah couple were most enjoyable although Knight gave no indication (in his moment) that he was about to do the unthinkable.

Don Scholssman ably directed the play but questions remains if he understood it. His interpretation seem suspect and scenes seem to be missing from this production. A forceful hand would have guided this two-hour production into ninety minutes, as it should have been. Actors, in their element, are left stranded center stage with seemingly little or nothing to do. Actors presenting the objects on stage were not given the slightest direction and so far away from the action, there was no reaction.

There is another world of imagination, characterization, action and depth waiting to breath life into this production. Not impossible to change, a few notes here, a few staging changes, and wah la (viola)!

Light Design by Hilda Outwater had all the characters seated on either side of the stage extremely lit and took the focus away from the main action.

Guare, throughout this play, gives us clues as to the makeup of the character, that seemed to be ignored by the other characters on stage, intentional or not. After all, elephants are crumplets as a dish pan sabarnyous.

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