Playwright: John Guare
At: Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Tickets: 773-728-7529; Redtwist.org; $35-$40. Runs through: Oct. 7
Before it was a game involving Kevin Bacon's film career, John Guare's 1990 play about New York socialites taken in by a con man provided a snapshot of the upper crust and its burnt edges.
Six Degrees of Separation, in some ways, shares a narrative pedigree with Guare's earlier and more overtly manic work, such as The House of Blue Leaves. Paul, the young Black man whose story about being Sidney Poitier's son opens doors on the Upper East Side, is as much a dreamer as wannabe composer Artie Shaughnessy in Blue Leaves. But Paul ( based on the real story of David Hampton, who briefly fooled friends of Guare's ) has an eerily prescient way of homing in on others' weaknesses. And instead of the heated social upheavals of the 1960s, the characters in Six Degrees face a 1980s New York that is becoming more sharply divided between haves and have-nots.
The real challenge in staging this piece is finding the balance between Paul and Ouisa Kittredge, the woman who finds herself drawn to Paul's story even as the relationship between herself and her art-dealer husband, Flan, begins to fray. ( The relationship with their kidsthe ones Paul claims to know from Harvardis already in tatters. ) Steve Scott's production for Redtwist features stellar work from Jacqueline Grandt as Ouisa and Donovan Session as Paul.
Grandt's Ouisa has a touch of flyaway eccentricity and palpable unrest about her. Before Paul enters their home, she and Flan are desperately scheming how to get $2 million from their wealthy friend, Geoffrey ( Jim Morley ), in order to buy a Cezanne to sell to the Japanese. "Having a rich friend is like drowning and having a friend who makes lifeboats," she tells usthe friend never knows if you just want the lifeboat.
Session brings incandescent charm that almostbut not quitecovers the chip on Paul's shoulder. And the truth is, if he had been born to the families he's set up as his marks, his gifts for creating alternative worlds might have been his lifeboat. Instead, his desperation leads him to ultimately target people who are as hand-to-mouth as he is.
Or perhaps some people are born to gull others. Guare doesn't give us a lot of backstory on Paul, but his con games on the Kittredges and their friends reveals the fault lines in their social facades. Their kids hate them and their livelihoods depend upon other people believing that they "belong" in the higher reaches of society.
The two-sided Kandinsky painting that Brian Parry's Flan proudly displays ( suggested here in Shea Messinger's set by torn abstract bits of colored plastic dangling from the ceiling ) is an apt metaphor for the shadow sides of all the characters in Guare's sometimes-caustic, sometimes-tragic prismatic tale, brought out to great effect in Scott's multi-hued staging.