April 22, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times
When John Guare’s now iconic play was first produced at the Lincoln Center in New York in 1993, it was a timely concept. Society had been reconfigured over the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s by integration, intermarriage and the acceptance of celebrities mixing with high society – most especially in New York where music, theatre, fashion and the arts have always defined social constructs. They called it “The Jet Set” for its mix of international luminaries and well-heeled travelers. Recreational drugs had a way of bringing unlikely social enclaves together and gallery openings sent the uptown crowd downtown to Soho, the East Village and Tribecca to dip their naïve toes into the newly fashionable unknown. In Six Degrees of Separation Guare visits the evolving complexities of Society vis-à-vis Modern Art at the turn of the decade.
Ouisa and Flan Kittredge are a well-heeled WASP couple who fancy themselves liberal-minded. Flan, a self-styled art dealer, is on the hunt for two million dollars to buy a French masterpiece he intends to flip for a profit to the Japanese. When his wealthy friend, Geoffrey, comes by for a drink they pitch him their idea. Interested, Paul explains his political position as an owner of gold mines in South Africa. “We have to educate the black workers. We’ll know we’re successful when they kill us,” he haughtily states. To which Ouisa replies, “It doesn’t seem right living on the East Side talking about revolution.” Her husband, attempting to soften her stance, clarifies. “Ouisa is a Dada manifesto.”
Thus the stage is set for an existential exercise in compassion, morals and old money when a well-dressed young African-American male knocks on their door, weak from a stabbing, and throws himself on their mercy. He introduces himself as a schoolmate of their Harvard-attending children and just like that, Paul is in the door and in their thrall as they quiz him on literature, art and the “Black Experience”. Paul readily expounds on his intellectual theories and tells them he is the son of famed actor, Sidney Poitier. They agree to back a film festival in New York City if they can act in Poitier’s next film. And as raconteur extraordinaire Paul boondoggles his victims, their involvement becomes compounded by their sympathies. “We turned him into an anecdote to dine out on,” Ouisa admits.
Guare has managed to perfectly capture the mood of the period – White guilt, radicalism of art, sex and politics and the confusion, curiosity and fear that comes from such a dramatic social shift. So successful is this play, based on a true story, that its title has become part of our shared lexicon, a euphemism for how closely we are socially connected. It has even spawned a parlor game called the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” in which two actors can be connected through their films or their love life.
As Port City Playhouse celebrates its 100th show since its founding, they have chosen the perfect vehicle to launch them into what will be their 36th season. Director Mary Ayala-Bush triumphs in the subtle staging of this production. On a small stage in the round she has managed to choreograph the actors so as to draw in the audience and deliver a feeling of shared experience and believability. Dana Gattuso (as Ouisa), Chuck Leonard (as Flan), Chaz Pando (as Paul), Marcus Anderson (as Rick) and Kyle McGruther (as Trent Conway, Paul’s Henry Higgins) are especially riveting, as is a cameo by Daniel McKay (as the gay hustler).
Port City Playhouse at The Lab at Convergence, 1819 North Quaker Lane, Alexandria, VA 22302. Performances are on the following dates – Apr. 19th, 20th, 26th, 30th and May 3rd and 4th at 8pm. Matinees on Apr. 27 and May 4th at 2pm. For tickets and information visit www.portcityplayhouse.org.