SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION by John Guare, directed by Stuart Bousel
Khary Moye as Paul and Genevieve Perdue as Ouisa. In rear, Karl Schanke as Dr. Fine and Brian Levi as Larkin
I can’t say enough about this production of John Guare’s “Six Degrees of Separation,” under Stuart Bousel’s masterful direction. Bousel is also an award winning playwright and actor. John Guare’s inspiration for his play was based on an early 1990s’ real life incident of an imposter, David Hampton, who had insinuated himself into a wealthy Manhattan couple’s apartment convincing them and their friends that he was the son of actor Sydney Poitier. In the play, Khary Moye renders an excellent portrayal of the imposter, here named Paul. He shows up in the apartment of Ouisa Kittridge (a remarkable Genevieve Perdue), and her husband, Flan, a wealthy private, fine arts dealer played by Matt Weimer, who wonderfully masks anxiety over impending acquisitions with a combination of irritability and ennui. Turns out, Paul has been stabbed in the gut, alleging a mugging. The handling of this situation is full of unexpected twists involving a pink shirt. The connections he makes to their friends, and details of Poitier, and their personal lives, has everyone and the audience (if one is not familiar with the play) totally convinced he is telling the truth. The introduction of their bored, jaded, disassociated, Ivy League, young-adult children adds another dimension to the plot when they cannot confirm that Paul was a school-mate. Bousel’s work with these actors in fleshing out their characters paid off, remarkably avoiding the cliche.
According to an article in The Guardian, by Emma Brockes, Guare’s play concerns not so much the con man himself, but the effect of the con on his victims. She goes on to say that “Six Degrees” is a spiky exposure of middle-class vanity in which a wealthy Manhattan couple are huckstered by the young man’s proximity to celebrity and the promise to get them parts in his father’s production of Cats.
Along with quotes throughout from and references to Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” as a basis of why young people become celebrity assassins, there are allusions to ’90s pop culture which, Guare has said, he won’t update. He says he doesn’t care. He goes on, “A play is of a time.” He doesn’t know what young people are talking about anyway, so it’s only fair. Though the principle actors recite lengthy informational, cultural, philosophical, psychological, and societal monologues, they are delivered with such believability and sincerity that one is captivated.
Ouisa’s final monologue, delivered by Genevieve Perdue, deepened with subtle emotion as it went on without devolving into manipulation.
The production run still June 18, at Custom Made Theatre, 533 Sutter St. San Francisco. Go to www.custommadetheatre.org for details.