Six Degrees of Separation | Stray Dog Theatre

StrayDog6Degrees31E 75The most memorable thing about Six Degrees, I’m afraid, is its spawning of the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” in which celebrity connections are made. That is fun; the play, I’m sorry to say, is not.

 

 

 

 

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Stray Dog Theatre is celebrating its tenth anniversary by restaging the first play it put on, Six Degrees of Separation. The premise is that no matter who one is or where one lives, famous or not, that person will be separated by no more than “six degrees” (i.e., six other people) from everyone else in the world.

Ouisa Kittredge (Sarajane Alverson), upper class matron whose well-appointed apartment overlooks Central Park, says she is both comforted and a bit frightened by this notion. Her art-dealer husband, Flanders “Flan” (Gerry Love) is less introspective than his wife and not much given to fits of self-examination. An ex-lawyer, he relishes his work as a peddler of paintings, a gambler of sorts, who has to figure out how low he can go to buy Cezannes and Matisses and the like to turn a heady profit for himself and his investors, represented here by Jeff (Robert Ashton), a South-African middleman the Kittredges are courting for his participation in a big deal.

The play actually opens with a scene in which the hysterical couple are running around their apartment checking to see if they’ve been robbed and reassuring themselves that they are physically all right after an incident we soon see unfolding from the night before. They and Jeff are having drinks when an injured young black man (Greg Fenner) shows up at their door. They patch him up, but he refuses an ambulance. Instead, he reveals that he is the son of actor Sidney Poitier, his name is Paul, he was at Harvard with two of the Kittredge children, and that he is to meet his father the following morning when Mr. Poitier arrives in New York to direct a film version of Cats. Aside from that horrifying last thing, his stories are believable, he is polite and well-spoken (perhaps a bit too affected because he sounds like Pete Campbell in Mad Men with his slightly elongated vowels and bitten-off consonants), and they take to him. After he makes dinner for them, he is invited to spend the night.

Later, all hell breaks loose, and Paul is chased out of the house. The two are relieved and feeling rather silly when they find that their friends Kitty (Kay Love) and Larkin (Christopher R. Brenner) have encountered Paul also and, like the Kittredges, gave him some walking around money based on the same story. Soon they learn that another friend, Dr. Fine (Michael Monsey), has been so taken in by the young man that he gives Paul the key to his apartment, where Paul escapes arrest because he has taken nothing and the owner gave him access to the premises. He’s a clever and slippery character. How did he do it? You will, of course, find out, even if you may not find the explanation entirely credible.

There is a two-sided Kandinsky painting in the Kittredge living room that constantly turns in the center above the action. It represents many things: The dual nature of humanity, the public and private “faces” we use, the sense that all may not be what it seems, and the nonstop movement of events in our lives, for better or worse. It’s a clever way to illustrate the dualities that pervade this play: Paul is a con man, but then so is Flan, but in a socially acceptable, even admired, way. Ouisa helps Flan and lives luxuriously (if occasionally precariously), but from what we see of her children, that part of her life didn’t work out too well. Paul represents a second chance, and she is loath to give up on him. Art is prized for its beauty, yes, but perhaps more so as a commodity. There is much to think about with the complex stories of, and interactions among, these characters.

But there is one insurmountable problem in producing Six Degrees of Separation 23 years after its award-winning New York run: It is hopelessly dated. The topical references are no longer, well, topical. (Some weren’t back in its day either, such as a mention of Pepe LeMoko.) The loss of immediacy means less humor, which makes these long, long solo speeches harder to tolerate, and the whole evening slows down. Sarajane Alverson, though many of the soliloquies are hers, rises above the material; Greg Fenner, so amazing in Angels in America and Fully Committed for Stray Dog, surprisingly, does not. He doesn’t seem invested in his character, and, if he doesn’t believe in himself, who will? To be fair, he gets much better once he is allowed just to be “Paul,” rather than the poseur the rich folks meet. The rest of the cast is competent, and the actors playing the admost-adult children will resonate with anyone who has ever lived with teenagers. Technical aspects are fine, as always, and a luxury apartment is ably suggested by two matching sofas. Set, sound, and lighting are by Justin Been and Tyler Duenow, respectively.

Gary F. Bell’s direction lacks the energy I’ve come to expect from his work, but it is certainly not a bad job. He also has a costume credit for making rich people look richer. The most memorable thing about “Six Degrees,” I’m afraid, is its spawning of the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” in which celebrity connections are made. That is fun; the play, I’m sorry to say, is not, and is a rare misstep for the generally excellent company. | Andrea Braun

Additional cast: Paul Edwards, Mitch Eagles, Zach Wachter, Shannon Walton, Joseph Corey Henke, Richard Stewart, Evan R. Fornachon, Stefanie Kluba, and Jeffrey Salger.

Six Degrees of Separation runs through June 22, 2013. You may contact straydogtheatre.org.

Photos by John Lamb

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