Ivey Awards honor best in local theater for 2017

By CHRIS HEWITT |  Pioneer Press

PUBLISHED: September 27, 2017 at 10:19 am | UPDATED: September 27, 2017 at 10:19 am

 Theater Latte Da’s “Ragtime” earned the Ivey for Overall Excellence. (Dan Norman/Theater Latte Da)

Theater Latte Da’s “Ragtime” earned the Ivey for Overall Excellence. (Dan Norman/Theater Latte Da)

Actor Meghan Kreidler went home with two Ivey Awards at ceremonies Monday night.

Kreidler, currently on stage in Theater Latte Da’s “Man of La Mancha,” received the Emerging Artist award and was honored as a member of the Ensemble winner, “Vietgone.” The cast of that Mixed Blood Theatre musical drama also included Sun Mee Chomet, David Huynh, Flordelino Lagundino and Sherwin Resurreccion. (Chomet and Resurreccion were also double-winners Monday night, receiving acting trophies for “The Two Kids That Blow S— Up” at Theater Mu.)

The trophy for Lifetime Achievement was given to Ten Thousand Things founder Michelle Hensley, who has announced that the current season will be her last as the innovative company’s artistic director.

The annual Ivey winners are selected by a somewhat mysterious panel of 100 theater-makers and fans. Their other choices were:

Overall Excellence: “Ragtime,” Theater Latte Da

Production Design and Execution: “Six Degrees of Separation,” Theater Latte Da, awarded to Abbee Warmboe, Barry Browning, Sean Healey, Kate Sutton-Johnson, Bethany Reinfeld and Alice Fredrickson

Concept and Execution: “Safe at Home,” Mixed Blood

Actor: Nilaja Sun, “Pike St.,” Pillsbury House Theatre; Steven Epp, “Fiddler on the Roof,” Ten Thousand Things

Director: Noel Raymond, “The Children,” Pillsbury House Theatre

Emotional Impact: “Wit,” Artistry

Theater Latte Da's 'Six Degrees' adds another week of performances

Rohan PrestonStar Tribune

March 28, 2017

It's not just the unusually warm spring weather that is exciting people in the Twin Cities. "Six Degrees" also is hot in Minneapolis.

Producer Theater Latte Da has announced that director Peter Rothstein's revival of John Guare's 1990 play has added a week of performances at the Ritz Theater.

The one-act stars Mark Benninghofen (left), Sally Wingert and JuCoby Johnson, who plays a young conman pretending to be Sidney Poitier's son in this tale of art, impersonation and cunning.

Rothstein's production has received strong notices and audiences apparently agree. The show will now close April 15.

 

Theater Latte Da to revive its powerful 'Ragtime' on the coasts

Rohan PrestonStar Tribune

March 22, 2017

Theater Latte Da is restaging its powerful production of “Ragtime” for audiences in the northwest and southeast next season.

Theater founder and director Peter Rothstein has been tapped to remount his re-imagined version of the musical for the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle in the fall and the Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota in spring 2018.

With a book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, “Ragtime” tells of the American dream as seen by three groups: blacks, whites and immigrant Jews. The size of the show has made it somewhat prohibitively expensive to stage, since it usually has a cast with three distinct groupings of people.

Rothstein decided to stage the show with a slimmed down cast where all the players support each of the three interlocking narratives.

“The metaphor there, that all the people are responsible for each other’s stories, adds another layer to show,” said Rothstein.

He added: “There are reductions that feel like reductions and reductions that feel like bold choices. According to the audience response and reviews, this one worked.”

Rothstein will take most of his creative team with him, including scenic designer Michael Hoover, costume designer Trevor Bowen and choreographer Kelli Foster Warder.

He’s not sure if he will be able to take his actors. In the Twin Cities, the production starred David Murray as Coalhouse Walker Jr. and Traci Allen Shannon as his wife (pictured in this photo by Dan Norman.). Other headliners were Britta Ollmann as the white mother, Sasha Andreev as immigrant Tateh and Andre Shoals as Booker T. Washington.

Latte Da has toured “All is Calm” at the holidays for the past 10 years.

“But this is the first time we’ll take a production that originated here elsewhere,” said Rothstein. “I’m super-excited about it. The piece created such needed dialogue here and we hope that it will instigate similar dialogue in these communities, too.”

 

REVIEW: Six Degrees of Cons (Theater Latté Da)

Bev WolfeTwin Cities Arts Reader

March 21, 2017

Phoniness, lack of human connectedness and class distinctions are the prevalent themes in John Guare’s play Six Degrees of Separation, which opened last weekend at Theater Latte Da. The play originally debuted on Broadway in 1990 and was nominated for both a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for Best Play. Peter Rothstein directs a crisply paced and thoughtful production of Guare’s play.

The play begins with the well-to-do, but temporarily asset-depleted, couple of Ouisa and Flanders Kittredge hosting a wealthy friend named Geoffrey. Geoffrey is an industrialist from South Africa, which during the play is still in the midst of Apartheid. Flanders is an art dealer who is in critical need of acquiring an expensive painting for resale to Japanese buyers. The Kittredges need to persuade Geoffrey to invest $2 million to complete the acquisition. As their evening begins, they are interrupted by a young, well-dressed but bleeding young man named Paul who has just been stabbed. Paul claims he goes to Harvard with the Kittredge’s children and sought help at their place because he was mugged. With a little bit of first aid, Paul proceeds to flatter and charm the Kittredges and Geoffrey.

In addition to attending college with their children, Paul reveals that he is the son of Sidney Poitier. A running joke in the play is that Poitier is directing the movie version of the musical Cats. With Paul’s charm and his promise to make all three of them extras in Cats, Flanders is able to obtain the necessary monetary commitment from Geoffrey. The Kittredges insist that Paul stay the night, but the Kittredges’ wonderful evening crashes with a thud the next morning when, in a very jarring scene, they discover that Paul has brought a naked street hustler into their home.

The Kittredges still hang on to the thought that Paul is Poitier’s son until they learn that their friends had a similar evening and similarly expect to be cast in Cats. The couples contact the police and find at least one more victim. They also confirm that their children do not know Paul. Despite his culture mannerism and appearance, it is learned that that Paul was also a street hustler. He became involved with an MIT student who went to high school with the victims’ children and who schooled Paul in the ways of the well-to-do as well as the known gossip about these affluent parents. However, Paul’s phony persona takes a tragic turn when he takes advantage of a young, poor couple who befriended him.

The play is set in for the late 1980s and its datedness seems quaint. No one uses cell phones and, more importantly, there is no Internet whereby the Kittredges could quickly verify Paul’s connection to Sidney Poitier. Instead, Ouisa must go to a secondhand bookstore to find an out-of-date Poitier biography to verify that Paul was not Poitier’s son.

JuCoby Johnson plays a charming and convincing Paul, who is either a) the ultimate con artist, or b) so desperate to be in the upper class that he starts to believe his own con. Sally Wingert shines in the role of Ouisa. She makes believable the fact that her character, despite knowing of Paul’s deception, has a closer emotion bond to this stranger than she has with her own children, or even her husband. Mark Benninghofen, as Flanders, captures the essence of a man who is primarily interested in his bottom line and has no sympathy for Paul, but who can’t say no to his wife when she wants them to pick up Paul and help him turn himself into the police. Jay Albright, as Dr. Fine (another of Paul’s victims), brings some welcome humor to the play as he relates his encounter with Paul.

When I first saw that this show was part of Theater Latte Da’s season, I assumed it was a musical version of the play. However, there is no musical version of the play – at least not yet – but director Peter Rothstein successfully takes an innovative approach for integrating music by having the actors perform music both as background for certain scenes and during the transitions.

Kate Sutton-Johnson’s set design is another highlight in the show. The set displays a lavish, but realistic upper class living room surrounding by art including a Kandinsky constructivist painting in the center of the stage. It was in great contrast to the bare and raw staging that has been more commonly used at the Ritz Theater.

Staging a non-musical is a significant directional change for Theater Latte Da, but, with a fine cast, it has proven to be a very successful direction. This production does justice to the many layers of Guare’s play.

Theater Latte Da's Six Degrees of Separation

Kare 11 TVPat Evans

March 21, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS - Inspired by the real-life con artist David Hampton, the acclaimed drama "Six Degrees of Separation" is now being performed at Minneapolis Ritz Theatre through April 9.

The witty and sincere social commentary wrestles with the human desire for meaningful connection.

Paul, a young black man, convinces wealthy white New York couple Ouisa and Flan Kittredge that he is the son of Sidney Poitier. Enraptured by his intellect and charm, the couple invite him to stay the night. But Paul’s ruse is soon undone, leading to discoveries that leave them all forever changed.

Nominated for four Tony awards, Six Degrees of Separation is a singular tragicomedy on race, class and manners. Peter Rothstein directs a stellar cast of actors and musicians who inhabit and underscore John Guare’s riveting drama. The Theater Latté Da production contains full-frontal male nudity, strong language, and adult situations.

For tickets visit latteda.org or call 612-339-3003.

Six Degrees of Separation

Arthur DormanTalkin' Broadway

March 16, 2017

John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation is without doubt one of the great American plays of the past fifty years. It strikes at our attitudes about money and wealth, our reverence for celebrity, and the intersection of race, class, and sexual orientation. It is at once a biting satire, a comedy of manners, and a poignant meditation on the forces that connect us and that keep us apart. It is back in a smashing production by Theater Latté Da that fires on all cylinders, including fantastic performances from Sally Wingert, Mark Benninghofen, and JuCoby Johnson.

Six Degrees of Separation appeared in 1990, triggered by a true story told to Guare. In 1983 a young black man named David Hampton conned at least a dozen people into believing he was the son of Sidney Poitier. On that basis, his victims invited him to stay for dinner, spend the night in their posh homes, and gave him money before Hampton was caught, brought to trial, and given a prison sentence. In the real world that allowed Hampton's ruse to succeed (for a while), just being, or claiming to be, the child (spouse, parent) of a celebrity establishes credentials and a connection to others in the same social strata. But what real connections—acquaintance, school affiliation, familial ties, work history, or otherwise—actually link us to one another?

Guare's stroke of genius was to meld the con-man anecdote with a theory of social linkages, found in the work of psychologist Stanley Milgram (1933-1984) on what he called the "small world" problem. The notion that all of us, round the world, are connected by a string of affiliations of no more than six people came to be called six degrees of separation, and captured the public imagination, despite lack of scientific proof of its validity. As Guare's character Ouisa Kittredge states, "Six degrees of separation between us and everyone else on this planet. The President of the United States, a gondolier in Venice, just fill in the names. I find it A) extremely comforting that we're so close, and B) like Chinese water torture that we're so close because you have to find the right six people to make the right connection."

The play begins with Ouisa and her husband Flan in their bathrobes, exclaiming about an upheaval that apparently just occurred in their stylish, expensive-looking home. Was anything stolen? They could have been killed! Suddenly, they turn to us and go back to how it started, making a story of it, tag-teaming as couples do when relating a shared experience.

The Kittredges are high-end art dealers, buying high-priced works of art away from the public eye, and selling them at even higher prices. The evening before, they were entertaining a wealthy friend visiting from South Africa, whom they hoped to persuade to pony up two million dollars toward the purchase of a Matisse—which they knew they could sell to a Japanese buyer for a great deal more. Suddenly, a young black man bursts into their apartment. He introduces himself as Paul, a friend of the Kittredges' two children at Harvard (a third Kittredge child is at Groton). Paul happened to be in Central Park, across the street from their home, when a mugger took all his money and his briefcase containing the only copy of his thesis, and left him with a stab wound. Though they'd never met, he knew from Tess and Woody's accounts of their parents' kindness that Ouisa and Flan would help him. Indeed they do, nursing his wound, giving him clean clothes, and urging him to join them for dinner.

Paul is charming, well spoken, thoughtful and bright. It is clear he knows their kids well, and that Tess and Woody had spoken often about their home. He reveals that his father is Sidney Poitier, who will arrive in New York in the morning. Well, of course Paul must stay the night with them. The evening is a complete success. However, the morning shows things in a different light when Ouisa finds a completely naked man, a hustler, in bed with Paul. After frantic screaming and chasing the hustler out the door—throwing his clothes after him—they tell Paul he had better leave too. He does, apologizing profusely and begging them not to tell his dad: "He doesn't know," Paul pleads. This takes us back to the beginning, with Flan and Ouisa ranting about the harm they narrowly escaped.

Flan and Ouisa soon learn that their friends whose son also attends Harvard had almost the same experience, hosting their son's pal Paul Poitier. They finally reach their children (in the pre-text message era) and realize that Paul is a total fraud. They enlist their kids' help to figure out who knows them well enough to have passed on so much personal detail to Paul, and who would do such a thing. What they learn is both astonishing and believable. But Paul is not finished. Using a shocking new ruse, he wins the confidence of Rick and Elizabeth, a sweet young couple from Utah pursuing theater careers in New York. Paul's betrayal of their friendship is ruinous to the couple and at last provide grounds for Paul to be sought by the police. Only then does Paul reach out to Ouisa for help. Ouisa's response is a great transformative theater moment.

The three lead performances perfectly capture each character's charms and flaws. Audiences are well aware of Sally Wingert's (Ouisa) spectacular range, flipping from biting comedy to dramatic yearning with the wave of a hand. Mark Benninghofen is also well known for his excellent portrayals of deceptively complex men. JuCoby Johnson is newer to our stages, but in just a few years has given numerous strong performances, most recently as a freed slave in Minnesota Jewish Theater Company's stellar mounting of The Whipping Man. As Paul, he is so good looking, bright and charming that he makes the truth of his deceptions all the more heartbreaking. Johnson is clearly an actor on the rise.

Of the other characters, three—the South African friend, played by Patrick Bailey; Paul's accomplice Trent, played by Grant Sorenson; and Paul's too-trusting friend Rick, played by Gabriel Murphy—are given some substance in Guare's script. All three actors bring authenticity to their portrayals. The college-age children of Flan, Ouisa, and Paul's other victims are depicted as annoying, parent-bashing youth, frankly grating in contrast to Paul's veneer of courtesy and polish.

The production's creative team has done outstanding work. Kate Sutton-Johnson have created a sensationally lush and arty living room for Flan and Ouisa, with nooks and pedestals displaying artwork culled from artists working in the northeast arts district, where Theater Latté Da is based. Alice Fredrickson's costumes perfectly represent the Kittredges' chic pretensions, Paul's preppy-clean persona, and Rick and Elizabeth's thrift shop bohemian look. Barry Browning's lighting draws the focus down as needed to create different levels of intimacy.

Theater Latté Da is known for superb productions of musicals and plays with music. Six Degrees of Separation is neither, but director Peter Rothstein has added live music to the production. Four cast members, when they are not in character, play songs (guitar, piano, tenor sax and cello) that create suitable background ambience during scenes and transitions, a nice addition to the play. Overall, Rothstein's direction is sharp, catching all the wit, but focused on the questions raised by the play.

Those questions are numerous, and different viewers will no doubt find different questions more or less compelling. Like the characters in the play, its themes may connect with audience members through a variety of linkages to past experience and current concerns. In 1990, John Guare wrote a brilliant play that continues to provoke such questions, while spinning a darn entertaining yarn. Peter Rothstein, his stellar cast and gifted designers, have mounted it with elegance, intelligence and heart. This production of

Six Degrees of Separation is flat out terrific, and should not be missed.

Six Degrees of Separation continues through April 9, 2017, at the Ritz Theater, 345 13th Avenue NE, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets: $35.00 - $48.00. Student Rush Tickets (two per valid ID): $20.00; Public Rush Tickets: $24.00. Rush tickets must be purchased at box office, cash only, starting one hour before performances. For tickets call 612-339-3303 or go to theaterlatteda.com. Note, the play contains full male nudity and adult themes.

Writer: John Guare; Director: Peter Rothstein; Associate Director and Scenic Design: Kate Sutton-Johnson; Costume Design: Alice Fredrickson; ; Lighting Design: Barry Browning; Sound Design: Sean Healey; Properties Master: Abbee Warmboe; Dialect Coach: Keely Wolter; Technical Director: Bethany Reinfeld; Stage Manager: Tiffany K. Orr; Production Manager: Allen Weeks.

Cast: Jay Albright (Dr. Fine/Doorman/piano), Patrick Bailey (Geoffrey), Mark Benninghofen (Flanders Kittredge), JuCoby Johnson (Paul), Julie Madden (Kitty), Riley McNutt (Doug/detective/tenor saxophone), John Middleton (Larkin), Gabriel Murphy (Rick/hustler), Dan Piering (Woody/ policeman/ guitar/cello), Grant Sorenson (Trent/Ben), Kendall Anne Thompson (Tess/Elizabeth/guitar), Sally Wingert (Ouisa Kittredge).

'Six Degrees of Separation' at the Ritz

Pamela EspelandMinnPost

March 16, 2017

The picks

Now at the Ritz: “Six Degrees of Separation.” First, Theatre Latté Da’s new production of John Guare’s play about a young black con man who targets Manhattanites is not a musical. There is live music, but no singing. Second, if you haven’t already heard, “Six Degrees” contains full-frontal male nudity. Way to keep it fresh, Latté Da. The cast is led by Sally Wingert and Mark Benninghofen (last seen at the Ritz in “Sweeney Todd”) as posh couple Ouisa and Flan Kittredge; JuCoby Johnson is the con who claims to be Sidney Poitier’s son and talks his way into their lives. Johnson was last seen at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre in “The Whipping Man,” directed by Sally Wingert, because everyone on the planet is separated by only six other people. Kate Sutton-Johnson’s upscale set spans the width of the Ritz and is filled with art by Twin Cities artists (we love that); Barry Browning’s lighting is inspired. If all you know of “Six Degrees” is the Kevin Bacon joke, this is a dark play, and talky, and absolutely worth seeing. Peter Rothstein directs. FMI and tickets ($35-48). Ends April 9.

Review: Theater Latté Da's 'Six Degrees of Separation'

Graydon RoyceStar Tribune

March 14, 2017

There have been several occasions over the years in which Theater Latté Da has cracked its theatrical skin and stretched toward something new.

That sense of metamorphosis imbues Peter Rothstein’s production of “Six Degrees of Separation,” which opened Saturday at the Ritz in northeast Minneapolis.

No, John Guare’s crunchy 1990 play has not been transformed into a musical — Latté Da’s metier. Some of Rothstein’s actors play musical instruments as accents during and between scenes, creating an indispensable cinematic dimension, but music supports — rather than drives — this thoroughly theatrical endeavor. “Six Degrees” is Rothstein’s most substantial foray into a nonmusical on Latté Da’s stage.

Guare’s play jumps off from real life. In the 1980s, a con man passed himself off as Sidney Poitier’s son and worked his way into the apartments of several tony Manhattanites.

In “Six Degrees,” the character Paul (JuCoby Johnson) knows details about his marks’ children and he can talk intellectual smack about “The Catcher in the Rye,” the absence of imagination and the phoniness of self-satisfaction.

Guare, though, isn’t satisfied with a mere caper. Sally Wingert’s Ouisa Kittredge (how marvelously smug is that name?) agonizes late in the play about Paul’s fate: “He wanted to be us. He envied us. We aren’t enough to be envied.” Aha! Self-awareness invades the Kittredges’ existential stupor. Paul has forced Ouisa to muse on how all humans are just “six people apart.”

Johnson starts the evening a bit stiff — perhaps by design, because he’s trying to make a good impression on the Kittredges. He relaxes into Paul’s con scheme and by play’s end we are fixated on who this desperate, quixotic character is — phony or real?

Wingert and Mark Benninghofen, as Ouisa’s art-dealer husband Flan, share a very watchable chemistry built from years on stage together. Their characters here grow subtly apart. Ouisa looks at the collage of her life (all color but no structure) and wonders how she can hold onto the experience — that dazzling, frightening moment — when Paul invaded their lives. Flan bluntly shoves Paul out of mind and resumes his quest for the brass ring.

Patrick Bailey, as a buttoned-up South African tycoon, Gabriel Murphy as a tragic consequence of Paul’s counterfeit personality and Kendall Anne Thompson as the Kittredge daughter distinguish themselves in the rock-solid cast.

“Six Degrees” uses direct address and scatters its mojo around the stage. Rothstein is immeasurably aided by Kate Sutton-Johnson’s swanky New York loft, complete with artwork, and Barry Browning’s spot-on lighting scheme. As classy and distinct as both elements are, they feel natural in this intentionally stagey event.

Theater companies either innovate or become stale. “Six Degrees” is a milepost on Latté Da’s march toward the former.

Six Degrees Of Separation: highly recommended

John OliveHowWasTheShow

March 12, 2017

First things first: Six Degrees Of Separation (Theater Latté Da performing at the newly purchased Ritz, through April 9) looks terrific. Yeoperson work has been by the crackerjack design team – Kate Sutton-Johnson (sets); Alice Frederickson (costumes); Barry Browning (lights). Et al. They’ve created a marvelous Upper East Side apartment. Even better (and this is a first for this jaded reviewer): Latté Da has assembled excellent artwork (paintings, photographs, sculptures) and scattered then effectively around the large set. Come a few minutes early and check ’em out.

Second things second: the City – New York, that is – is a major character in John Guare‘s affecting (and disorienting) Six Degrees Of Separation. The main character, Paul – is his last name Poitier? Kittredge? The question is asked but never answered – sits shivering (one imagines) in Central Park, looking up the at the inviting and warmly lit windows. Paul (who is African-American) would do anything – anything – to be part of these loving (he imagines) families. So he stabs himself in the ribcage (claiming a thug did it), then collapses in the entranceway to the sprawling Kittredge ( a wonderful WASP name) apartment. Armed with the sketchiest of information (the first names of the Kittredge children) insinuates himself into the household, cooks a delicious meal, performs a gorgeous recitation of the meaning of Catcher In The Rye, agrees (after a strenuous argument) to stay overnight in the empty bed of one of the Kittredge children.

And yet, New York is a place where love and companionship must be purchased, and this Paul does. He sneaks out, engages the services of a (male) prostitute, Later it’s discovered that he has stolen TVs and money from other people. And he has victimized (is this the appropriate word?) other families.

Who is this man? What does he represent for these (mostly wealthy) people? Do they hate him? Need him? And Paul himself: what does he want? Guare here has created a truly fascinating character.

Paul is played with thoughtful earnestness by the uber-talented JuCoby Johnson. There is a wonderful sense that Paul never expected to get this far and now that he’s arrived he’s unsure what to do. But he wants – he wants, he needs – to keep the charade going. Johnson is soft-spoken, perhaps somewhat to a fault (opening night jitters?). Still, his Paul is beautifully underplayed.

Paul’s last phone call with Mrs. K, in which Paul pleads for acceptance, is gorgeous. Director Peter Rothstein has a way of building to a climax and then staging it simply and quietly. This wrenched my gut for sure.

Veterans Sally Wingert and Mark Benninghofen play the Kittredges and perfectly capture their over-energized anxiety, about money, their quasi-successful business, their surly children, the City. They prowl – and own – the large set and provide scads of rich comedy. Wonderful.

Okay, I’m out of space and thus unable to wax enthusiastic about the rest of the cast, especially the sullen children with their abrasive sense of entitlement. Know that Six Degrees Of Separation is beautifully acted, intelligently designed and staged, and well worthwhile.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. His The Sisters Eight will be presented at First Stage Milwaukee. His screenplays, A Slaying Song Tonight and The Deflowering Of Father Trimleigh are under option. Please visit his informational website.

Theater review: Latte Da’s ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ connects

Chris HewittPioneer Press

March 12, 2017

From the start of “Six Degrees of Separation,” New York couple Flanders and Ouisa Kittredge speak directly to us, as if we are old friends at a party they’re throwing. One question audiences may ask themselves is, “But do I want to be friends with them?”

One of the feats of John Guare’s beautiful play is to expose the ugliness of some of its characters — who are wealthy, privileged, smug and both casually racist and classist — and then peel that back to reveal the deeply human fears beneath the elegant veneer these characters project.

That’s particularly true in director Peter Rothstein’s fresh, smart staging, which has the whole cast on-stage the entire time, so the actors who are not involved in any given scene sit off to the side, as if they’re members of the audience like us.

Or, to take that idea to its extreme, as if we paying customers are actors/observers in this drama, too.

“We’re all in this together” is, of course, a theme of the play that popularized the notion that everyone is separated from everyone else by a chain of half a dozen strangers — or, as Ouisa (Sally Wingert) puts it, “I am bound to everyone on the planet by a trail of six people.”

Ouisa comes to this revelation after a dinner party. The party is interrupted by a young man named Paul (nimble, code-switching JuCoby Johnson), who says he’s both a friend of their children and the son of movie star Sidney Poitier. It’s not giving away too much to reveal that he is not who he claims, or that, even in the midst of his lies, he is so charming and somehow genuine that he sparks something within Ouisa.

Moving from glittering repartee to heartbreaking drama, “Six Degrees” climaxes with a phone call from prison. Paul reaches out to Ouisa for help in the call, during which Wingert gracefully strips away Ouisa’s facade to reveal the capacity for empathy and compassion that Paul has awakened.

Rothstein’s staging makes sure that we also recognize that “Six Degrees” is Paul’s story and that, as much as “Six Degrees” is about the illusions we sometimes create to keep our lives going, it’s also about the one person of color on stage, who is desperately imagining a spot for himself in a world that seems to have no place for him.

At one point on opening night, it occurred to me, “Shouldn’t this play be called ‘Six Degrees of Connection,’ since it’s predicated on the notion that we are all connected?”

But “Separation” is right. “Six Degrees” means to upset, not to reassure. Having overturned belief systems and fractured relationships, Latte Da’s “Six Degrees” steers its characters to the brink of chaos, until a thrilling final image offers hope that meaningful connections await us, if only we can remember how to reach out to each other.

IF YOU GO

  • What: “Six Degrees of Separation”
  • Where: Ritz Theater, 345 13th Ave. NE, Mpls.
  • When: Through April 9
  • Tickets: $48-$35, 612-339-3003 or theaterlatteda.com
  • Capsule: A fine production of John Guare’s wise, witty play.

Actress Sally Wingert returns to 'Six Degrees' this weekend at Theater Latté Da

Rohan PrestonStar Tribune

March 10, 2017

In his autobiography, Malcolm X noted that when he was a young, wayward street hustler, he often interacted with underworld figures whose intellectual acumen could have been put to good use in science, math or the humanities, if given a chance.

Sally Wingert sees a bit of Malcolm in Paul, the young, black gay hustler who pretends to be Sidney Poitier’s son and cons a wealthy white family in the drama “Six Degrees of Separation.” Charismatic and charming, he quickly learns the codes of upper-crust white society — something that shows he has promise despite his actions, Wingert said: “He has brilliant potential but isn’t born into the right circumstances to realize his gifts.”

The veteran actress plays wealthy Upper East Side hostess Ouisa in a Theater Latté Da production of “Six Degrees” that opens Saturday in Minneapolis.

Wingert has a deep connection to John Guare’s 1990 one-act, having been part of a memorable 2003 production at the Guthrie Theater. That production took a cue from the art-world characters and played with perspective. This staging will realize similar things, said Wingert.

“It’s about the illusions, and illusory worlds, we create for ourselves,” she said. “The same way that Paul has to tell lies, Ouisa and Flan do as well. They’re living on a higher plateau, clearly, but they are one painting-sale away from having their illusion blown. Everything with them appears perfect until we find out they’re on very thin ice.”

‘Six Degrees’ history

7 things you probably don’t know about ‘Six Degrees of Separation’

Chris HewittPioneer Press

March 10, 2017

Like the great “Tracey Ullman Show,” the play, “Six Degrees of Separation,” is a work of art that is now better remembered for an offshoot than for itself.

Just as “Ullman” gave birth to the still-running “The Simpsons,” John Guare’s “Six Degrees of Separation” eventually led to the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” meme, which has fun with the play’s idea that everyone on the planet is connected to everyone else by six degrees or less: You once baby-sat for someone whose hair was cut by someone who drove a cab for someone who was a student of the Dalai Lama, for instance (that’s only five degrees).

Hopefully, Theater Latte Da’s production, which runs through April 9, will be a reminder that the play remains vital, hilarious and heartbreaking. It’s the story of Ouisa Kitteridge (Sally Wingert) and her family, whose lives are transformed after they come to the aid of a penniless man (JuCoby Johnson) who tells them he is Sidney Poitier’s son. (Tickets, from $48-$35, are at theaterlatteda.com.)

Taking another look at four “Degrees” — the original Broadway production (in 1990), an about-to-open Broadway revival, the Oscar-nominated movie version from 1993 and the Guthrie Theater production in 2003 — is also a reminder that those worlds are interconnected. Some fun facts about those productions, which are separated by much fewer than six degrees:

1. Both Broadway productions of "Six Degrees" have starred women who were nominated for "best supporting actress" Emmys on the same TV show. Name the TV show.

"The West Wing." Stockard Channing was in the original, 1990 production, Allison Janney in the upcoming revival.

2. Sally Wingert stars in Latte Da's production. She was in the Guthrie's 2003 "Six Degrees," playing the supporting role of Kitty and understudying the lead role. She shares that dual distinction with what Broadway/TV star?

Kelly Bishop

3. A running joke in "Six Degrees" is its characters' disdain for a popular musical that was on Broadway at the same time as the original "Six Degrees" and, coincidentally, has returned at the same time as the upcoming Broadway revival. Name it.

CATS

4. He's now a famous director but, in the 1993 "Six Degrees" film, he played a cranky college student.

That's J.J. Abrams, who went on to co-create "Lost" and direct "Super 8" and a couple "Star Trek" films.

5. The supporting cast of the original Broadway production of "Six Degrees" was an incubator for soon-to-be stars. Name one of three future Tony winners who played supporting roles.

Laura Linney, Courtney B. Vance, and John Cameron

6. Two future "Sex and the City" husbands appeared in the 1990 "Six Degrees" production on Broadway. Can you name them? (Hint: One's more of a Charlotte; one's more of a Miranda.)

Evan Handler and David Eigenberg

7. "Six Degrees" at Latte Da is the second show in a row Sally Wingert has worked on with actor JuCoby Johnson. Did you see the first?

"Whipping Man" at Minnesota Jewish Theater