On Friday night I drove through thickly falling snow to the Broad Ripple area of Indianapolis to see Stageworthy Productions’ presentaton of “Six Degrees of Separation,” by John Guare. The venue was the sanctuary of the Jesus Metropolitan Community Church. Lori Raffel directed. The producer was John Kastner.
This is a very cerebral show: it didn’t make me feel any strong emotions, but it did give me a lot to think about in terms of the elusive nature of intimacy, the iconic power of art, and the impossibility of ever completely knowing how our own actions affect other people.
Director Raffel’s blocking provides almost a courtroom atmosphere. The actors file in and sit in the front rows on either side of the stage. Anonymous actors hold up the art objects that are most important to the main characters, like evidence. Sometimes I got the feeling that we were at a proceedings rather than at a play. I never felt very connected to any of the characters, but I stayed curious about them.
A stylish white couple (Sally Carter as Ouisa and Tom Robertson as Flan) in 1990 New York City tell the audience about the time a young black man tricked them into thinking he was Sydney Poiter’s son and a friend of their own kids, who are students at Harvard. As other characters are introduced, they all speak directly to the audience as well, often while earlier characters stay frozen on stage. All have experienced some level of connectivity to Paul, the young con man (played by Chris Wakefield.) Some have been profoundly changed by their interactions with him. No one really knows him.
There are lots of funny and/or interesting references to books, theatre, paintings, and other forms of art. At one point, Paul goes on and on and ON about Catcher in the Rye, and I had to laugh when later in the play another character says that the book “should be read by everyone except adolescent males.” Maybe it is time for me to re-read it.
I found myself jotting down several of the great, funny lines in Guare’s script. For example, when asked why he brought a gay hooker into Ouisa and Flan’s home, Paul says, “I was happy. I wanted to add sex to it. Don’t you do that?”
There are also lots of thought-provoking passages about truth in relationships. Carter and Robinson are convincing at first as a couple in sync with each other’s goals and later as a couple realizing that they are not well suited to each other after all. Jeff Lovell plays their rich friend/customer from South Africa and prompts a teeny bit of soul-searching as to which is more important to them: his money or the chance to spend time with him. Michelle LaBonne and David Eckard play Kitty and Larkin, friends of Ouisa and Flan who are determinedly naive. Larkin, especially, is in complete denial about how badly Paul tricked them. Dane Rogers and Amy Pettinella play a wholesome young couple (Ric and Elizabeth) from Utah who are in the big city to pursue acting careers together. Ric’s monologue after meeting Paul is especially moving.
The commentary on relationships includes boundary and communication issues in parent-child relationships. Closeness is no guarantee of love or even mutual respect. Becca Ford plays an unbearably bratty daughter (Donna) to an equally obnoxious Dr. Fine (Jeffrey Reeves), who has also been taken in by Paul. Claire Camden plays a less bratty but no less desperate daughter, Tess, to Ouisa and Flan, who dismiss her life decisions because they did not come up with them. Gordon Gorsuch plays their whiny son, Woody.
The most thought-provoking point of this play was not that we are all superficially connected to each other by only six degrees of separation. More powerful for me was the idea that none of us can ever really know anyone else without first being honest about ourselves. As Ouisa says more than once, “Who are you?”
Paul certainly doesn’t know this about himself. I kept wanting to ask his actor the same question. Wakefield looks the part of Paul and he has obviously worked hard on memorization and delivery, but on opening night he had not yet found his way in to the heart and complexity of Paul’s character. He had not yet found his own inner con man yearning for love and acceptance. In other words, I did not buy that he had had such a powerful effect on all of these people. However, the potential is there. He is definitely an actor to watch.
A few other actors round out the cast:
Robert McKelvey plays both a detective and Ouisa and Flan’s doorman. I got a kick out of his oversized glasses. (Costumes by Patricia Schiro-Long.)
Doug Messinger plays three different roles, appearing virtually naked in one of them and smitten with Paul in another. I admired his body confidence and his versatility.
The venue does not offer much in the way of lighting options, but lighting and sound designer Tom Creviston made the most of what was available to him. I imagined the pre-show piano bar music is what they play at The Rainbow Room: a nice touch.
Lori Raffel designed the simple yet versatile 1990s living room set. Raffel, Schiro-Long, and Michael Long decorated it.
The play is 90 minutes long, with no intermission, but there are refreshments available for purchase before the show in the lobby. The chairs are cushy and comfortable, but they are all on one level, so don’t be shy about sitting near the front so that you can see everything.
“Six Degrees of Separation” has two more performances: on Friday, February 29th and Saturday, March 1. Both are at the Jesus Metropolitan Community Church, 2950 East 55th Place in Indianapolis. Please call 253-9115 to make a reservation.
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com