BWW Reviews: SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION at Vagabond

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What_a_Pretty_World_We_Live_In_20110418

What_a_Pretty_World_We_Live_In_20110418

Like the two-sided Kandinsky painting that hovers over the play, truth and illusion spin and blend in this depiction of the tenuous connections we seek to form in the modern world. 

The abstract décor of the 1980s New York urban elite serves as the perfect backdrop to seemingly perfect lives that have too much empty space waiting to be filled.  As the story moves between time and place, the set remains static while bits and pieces of lies and lives are revealed  much to the horror of characters that thought they were in the know and find themselves out of the loop.

The play opens as Ouisa and Flan Kittredge, an upper-crust couple on New York’s Upper East Side, are entertaining a wealthy guest, impeccably portrayed by Jeff Murray, for dinner.   They are enthralled by money, consumed by what’s trendy, estranged from their children and blissfully ignorant about the rest of humanity.  But lately, Ouisa has been captivated by the existential theory that we all exist on a human web where everyone is connected to everyone else by a chain of six people or less. Of course, one has to know the right six people to get to where you want to go.

Marianne Germaine elegantly portrays Ouisa as the perpetual hostess to the rich.  She discovers the hidden heart in a woman who is forced to confront the other side of life and decides not to turn away.  Flan, expertly portrayed by Eric C. Stein, is an art dealer who cannot see art beyond the art of the deal.  He greets his wife’s sudden interest in self-examination with exasperation and hostility.

A young African-American named Paul charms his way into this insulated world claiming to be the college friend of their children and Sidney Poitier’s son. He is endearing and erudite, the perfect dinner companion, the ideal offspring, and a dissembler who is prone to long and beautiful speeches that ignite the imagination of his clueless admirers.   It is a challenging role but Gavin Whitt’s performance grows in its depth even as his character remains a mystery to the end. 

Chaos ensues when the newcomer turns out to be a conman with a penchant for homosexual conquests.  When the Kittredges find out that others in their circle have also been swindled, a hapless investigation ensues.   Paul continues to work his magic on a naïve young couple from Utah pursuing their Big Apple dreams.  James Poole and Kara Turner tug at the heartstrings as they light up their characters with hope that gets swallowed up by the shadows of the city.  Poole is especially affecting in his final monologue as he succumbs to the pain of innocence lost.

The cast revels in the diversity of their characters and the chance to tackle the cultural and social issues of the time. From the chorus of agitated and alienated children to the haves and have-nots that rub shoulders on the sidewalks of New York City, each role is pivotal as each vignette adds tragic or comic brushstrokes to the larger picture.  When some actors are used in dual roles it creates confusion.  It’s a story that requires pacing and clarity.  The Vagabond production starts slow but gains speed as it finds a balance between the humor and pathos of lives lived in the late twentieth century.

Six Degrees of Separation, written by John Guare and directed by Steve Goldklang, continues its run at The Vagabond Players, 806 South Broadway in Fells Point, now through May 15th with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15/$13 for seniors/$10 for students on Fridays .  Call 410-563-9135, email reserve@vagabondplayers.org or  visit online at  www.vagabondplayers.org.

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