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.