John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation borrows its title from the theory that every person on the planet is connected by no more than six individuals, but the one-act play, which is based on actual events occurring in New York City in the 1980s, delves much deeper into what qualities characterize one's soul and bind it to another's.
Grace Ann Productions staged this play last weekend in the Liddy Doenges Theatre of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, 110 E. 2nd St., and its second run is this weekend. I saw the play on Sunday afternoon; the theater was far less than crowded.
The set consisted of a large platform placed in the middle of the stage, upon which sat two halves of a red micro fiber couch. A throw rug and some decorative pillows completed the living room. Behind the main portion of the set stood a large abstract painting (perhaps an imitation of work by Wassily Kandinsky, a Russian artist mentioned in the play several times) and, stage left, a partition.
Enter Ouisa and Flanders Kittredge (Mary Bones and Carl Osborn), a snooty, white, upper-middle class couple wearing bathrobes, frantic and nervous about an event that has just taken place of which the audience is unaware. It's the middle of the night and Ouisa is wondering if anything is missing in the house, repeating to her husband over and over that they could have been murdered in their beds.
They take turns speaking anxiously to one another and then breaking down the fourth wall and speaking directly to the audience. Right away their hysteria is a little hard to believe. It's as if Bones and Osborn walked onto the stage nervous, and it takes them a minute to get into character. Their exchanges are awkward and poorly timed.
After a few minutes the lights go down and the couple disrobes to reveal the clothes they were presumably wearing the night before. They begin to tell their story from the beginning.
Flan is an art dealer who's short on cash. He needs $2 million to buy a landscape by Paul Cezanne, which he'll turn around and sell to a Japanese buyer for $10 million. Trouble is, Flan doesn't have $2 million. But he does have a rich friend who's in town from South Africa, Geoffrey (Jason Traczyk), and the couple invited him out to dinner to wine, dine and schmooze $2 million out of him.
Flan and Ouisa are both pretentious and conniving, especially Ouisa, who keeps turning toward the audience and chanting "two million dollars, two million dollars."
The doorman drags in a tall, slender black man who appears to be suffering from a stab wound. He introduces himself as Paul and explains that he was in Central Park when he was mugged and his thesis on the cultural importance of the novel Catcher in the Rye was stolen. He says he knows the Kittredge's children from Harvard where they all attend school. He also reveals that he's from the West Coast and his father is Sidney Poitier.
Paul (E. Kirby, Jr.) charms the Kittredges and Geoffrey, cooking them an elaborate meal and telling them stories of his father; the couple invites him to spend the night. They are grateful that, because of his charm, Geoffrey has agreed to lend them $2 million.
When Ouisa goes to Paul's room to wake him in the morning, a naked blond man runs out of the room, and the Kittredge's learn that Paul has used their home for a homosexual encounter with a hustler, which brings us to the moment the play opened.
They phone their children and realize that not one of them knows Paul. Later, over dinner with friends, they learn that they are not the only ones who've been duped by this character, and they set out to learn who Paul really is and bring him to some sort of justice.
The question really becomes, though, what is Paul's crime? In both instances, he takes no more than $50 from the families who allow him to stay with them. The audience learns that Paul had a relationship with a man who went to high school with the Kittredge's children and that's how he knew where to go and what to say.
Later, he weasels his way into the lives of a young couple that has come to New York to attempt to make it big as actors, and he tells them he is Flan Kittredge's son.
The question really becomes whether or not Paul was just trying to hustle the couple or whether he really, really wanted to be a part of their family, whether he just wanted to belong somewhere.
Toward the play's end, Ouisa speaks with him on the phone, and he acts very coy, almost childlike, a demeanor that is vastly different from his sort of "street self," the person he was before he was taught to speak and behave "properly." It makes the audience wonder whether Paul is actually disturbed, if he really does want to be a part of the Kittredge's family, or if he's just looking to hustle them again.
Ouisa sincerely believes that he wants to be their son, and even comments that he's done more for their family than their own children have. Flan is more inclined to believe that he just wants to use them again, and he wants Paul out of their lives.
Paul is eventually arrested, but since Ouisa and Flan aren't family and don't know his real name, they can't find out anything about him. In the end, Ouisa tells Flan she doesn't want Paul to become another anecdote, a story they tell their friends over cocktails. "He's an experience," she says. "How do we keep that experience?"
I'm leaving a lot of the details out because I think this play really is worth seeing. There were certainly moments of imperfection, but they weren't enough to ruin the show.
The beginning is quite slow. I mentioned that the initial delivery of lines was awkward, and the characters confined themselves to the platform where their living room furniture lies. I sort of understand that Kirby (who also directed the show) wanted to establish that area as the house and used the rest of the stage later in other ways, but being restricted to that little amount of stage prevented the actors from using movement to garner interest and excitement. Instead, they sort of stood up, sat on the couch and circled one another over and over.
Traczyk played his South African character quite well. He does a good job with the accent, and he seems to know his character much better and appears much more comfortable than his two co-stars. And while Osborn seems to finally fall into step with Flan after the first few scenes, something about Bones' performance remains awkward and forced throughout the 90-minute production.
I'm sort of torn in deciding whether it was her character or her performance that left me dissatisfied. The delivery of many of her lines lacked real sincerity, but it would be in her character's nature to be insincere.
Kirby was quite moving as Paul. You liked the guy, despite his actions, and you felt for him, which is how I think Kirby wanted you to feel.
After the show he asked for the house lights because he wanted to see, as he put it, the few people who would pay to see such a strange show. He said he had been kind of shunned for producing the play, and he mentioned being in New York at dinner one night and seeing Stockard Channing (who played Ouisa in the original Broadway performance), and she encouraged him to do this work.
He asked the audience what they got out of the play and was mostly received with silence. He did reveal that he chose it with the election in mind and he said, "I knew doing this work would probably not fill the house, but if one person saw it and walked away different, that's all we could hope for."
See it. Sit through the imperfections and get something out of it. It'll be worth your time. The show continues Fri., Oct. 24 and Sat., Oct. 25 at 8pm and Sun., Oct. 26 at 2pm. Tickets are $20.
Other Things to See and Hear
Also this week, American Theatre Company's The Rocky Horror Show continues its run at the Williams Theatre of the PAC (tulsapac.org for more), and 50 Swats will show its second run of Old Fashioned Poison Candy, an original work consisting of monologues and short scenes, all loosely related around the theme of Halloween (nightingale.org).
The Broken Arrow Community Playhouse puts on Dracula: The Musical, with its first run this weekend, Oct. 24-25 and continuing Oct. 30-Nov. 2 (bacptheatre.com), and, the same weekends, Clark Youth Theatre produces Romeo and Juliet (clarktheatre.com). In Sand Springs, the community theatre will show Blithe Spirit Oct. 23-25 (246-2195), and Sapulpa Community Theatre opens Wait Until Dark Oct. 24-26 and Oct. 31-Nov. 2 (227-2169).
On Saturday, NPR's Garrison Keeler will be in town at the PAC with a live version of "A Prairie Home Companion" (tulsapac.org).
Next Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 29-30, Broadway in Bartlesville presents Chicago (bartlesvillecommunitycenter.org).
In music, the TCC Signature Symphony presents The Three Phantoms Oct. 26-27 (tulsacc.edu), Chamber Music Tulsa presents the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble Sun., Oct. 26 (chambermusictulsa.org), the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame presents an evening with Janet Rutland Sun., Oct. 26 (okjazz.org) and Choregus Productions presents Sylvia McNair Oct. 28-29 (choregus.org).
And be sure to check out area galleries before their October exhibits come down. See the Events calendar for the listings.
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