AISLE SAY Twin Cities


By John Guare
Directed by Ethan McSweeny
Starring Leah Curney, Bob Davis, Danyon Davis,
Amy Van Nostrand, Stephen Pelinski
Guthrie Theatre: March 1-April 6, 2003
725 Vineland Place, Minneapolis (612) 377-2224

Reviewed by David Erickson and Roxanne Sadovsky

The first thing I need to say is that since we here at 2 Jew Review have been reviewing shows at the Guthrie, the magnificent space has come to feel like my home away from home. Walking into the lobby is like walking into my living room, and indulging in a romantic stroll in the sculpture garden after the show—The Guthrie being a good neighbor to the Walker Art Museum—feels so familiar in the sweetest of ways that I might as well refer to it as my garden. Or at the very least, I ought to moonlight as a tour guide.

The theatre-going portion is akin to meeting with old friends for drinks, or, in the height of the season, attending a weekly Guthrie support group. Not only am I beginning to banter with Guthrie regulars, discussing the production as though it was weather, but the on-stage performers are beginning to feel like extended family members, especially Richard Ooms (Geoffrey). He is coming dangerously close to becoming the object of my transference issues, a la dad. This is a good thing: every time I see him, or any vintage Guthrie player (and Six Degrees is full of 'em), I feel more than the compulsive intrigue one usually does for characters in this production—among Guthrie others— that are as sociologically and psychologically thrilling as Six Degrees. As I continue to see the familiar cast of players struggle as themselves to deeper understand the self of their character, I feel an inexplicable closeness to them, not to mention to the countless characters they awaken out there in the real world.

Of course, all of this leads to my larger philosophical point. As usual, this play sent my brain flap-jacking around its little cage, almost as much as Resurrection Blues did. Unlike the movie (which nearly caused me to decline the invitation to review), this show—combined with timing, lighting, minimalism in stage-clutter, characters of passion—achieves that rare balance between wit, intelligence, universal struggle, AND solution to universal struggle. Not that we in the audience are offered a take-home-kit with all the answers to our world's disastrous state of isolation, but rather we are given, say six or so, ways to think about what can be done in little ways, say degrees, in order to make a change in the completely bogus structure of our real-life-drama. What I find so incredible and reaffirming here, is that Six Degrees' cast of 17 characters are doing nothing in life but trying to find any way they can to connect with each other, whether the "other" be in the same room or way out in the cosmos of Hollywood. What could be more relevant to the contemporary social struggle? While Six Degrees was written 12 years ago, it continues to inspire us to honestly ask ourselves how connected we really are to each other and ourselves: Do we really know each other? Are we moved by one another? Do we view our good neighbors the same way we view the not so good neighbors in the seedy neighborhood? Do we somehow believe that people really come from a different clay? That some of us are Play-Do while others are more of a fine China? Or do the Six Degrees of Separation which pulsate at the viscera of this production merely suggest we have all been to the same Embers before it closed?

Elle: Hey, Rox. I know I'm not here, but you're doing it again. They get it. You don't need to detail all six degrees, degree by degree. They just want to know if the play was good. It's not all about the bigger picture and how we all connect to the shmootz in outer space. Jesus, Rox, where's the guest Catholic? Are you gonna hog the word count and not even let our new guest speak?

Rox: Oy, Elle. Right. Yes, I think I have made my point.

Elle: Or six.

Rox: Uh-huh. So, Davido is a recovering Catholic by the way. He's also one heck of a writer. He's able to do with concision and candor what we avoid by talking about the larger issues. He's really good at the maintenance stuff.

Elle: You mean he has boundaries? He actually knows how to write a review?

Rox: I s'pose that's what I am saying…but I don't want to be kicked to the sculpture garden, if you know what I mean. But yes, he has prepared a swell synopsis of the play that will get folks there a lot faster than I would be able to.

Elle: Just let him talk.

Rox: Oh, no, he was too scared to be here in person with us. I'll just tell you what he said:

The Guthrie Theater's production of John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation, is a work of art much like those mentioned in the course of the play, replete with splashes of color underscored by somber nuances. The characters are at once archetypes and also very human. The actors perform with an economy of style that allows the play to pulse and breath at the pace it needs to, so that the audience is not overwhelmed by the shades of meaning, the quick jumps from comedy to drama to tragedy, and the complex layers presented by this intriguing and disturbing story. Christine Jones' dead-on set design provides an inventive, inviting backdrop that transitions well from the sumptuous home of the Kittredges to the "railroad apartment" of the young would-be actors from Utah, and uses the thrust stage to full effect.

The plot is adapted from the true story of a young black man's successful, albeit brief, infiltration of elite New York society homes in the guise of "Sydney Poitier's son", and his subsequent unmasking, followed by the bluster and embarrassed outrage of the privileged who would consider themselves above such gullibility. The play raises myriad questions about race, dreams and expectations, societal values, and the connections between people who seemingly have nothing in common, yet cannot help feeling a very human affinity.

As the pivotal character, Paul "Poitier", Danyon Davis creates a menacingly disarming presence from the very beginning, and as the other facets of his life are presented, becomes ever more dominant in every following scene.

Amy Van Nostrand and Stephen Pelinski, as Ouis and Flan Kittredge- the first almost-affluent couple to fall prey to Paul's deception, parlay what starts out as the perfunctory "couple" relationship into an ever increasingly complex examination of superficial, arbitrary accumulation versus responsibility to others and one's own humanity; effectively delivering comic punchlines and insightful monologues alike.

The rest of the cast contribute flawless performances, a tribute to Director Ethan McSweeny's sure hand in creating a polished, balanced work of art and proof that he knows as much what doesn't belong on the canvas as what does. This one goes on my wall.

Elle: He's hired.

David (later, at temple): Wha..? Wait...way-haaaaytta I haveto convert? For some of us one day of atonement just isn't enough, if you know what I mean.

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