Six Degrees of Separation

by John Guare

Burton Taylor Theatre, 30/11 to 4/12/04

Three, two, one.. And they're off! Right from the off, Six Degrees of Separation hurtles along in this production at the Burton Taylor Theatre, running until Saturday 4th December. The tone is set, and you need all your wits about you to keep up with the actors as they race through the first twenty minutes.

The Kittredges are entertaining a South African friend at their Manhattan apartment, hoping he will stump up some of his massive fortune to assist them financially. The Kittredges are art dealers, trying to maintain an elite lifestyle. Midway through the evening, a black man, Paul, bursts into the flat, apparently having been stabbed and robbed. He explains he is a friend of the couple's children, and pleads for help. He gets fixed up and then charms the pants of everyone by waxing lyrical about Catcher in the Rye, cooking up a feast for them, and saying he is the son of Sydney Poitier.

The Kittredges are wowed by Paul Poitier, and invite him to stay the night before taking their South African friend out for the night. Things go awry when they return early to find Paul in bed with a street hustler. Both are thrown out, and the Kittredges feel cheated and repulsed.

The events become an enjoyable anecdote but as they tell their friends, it turns out they have all been duped by the same man. The play then becomes a search for the truth about the mysterious black man. It's an intriguing play, dealing with the falsities of the New York elite, difficult relationships with children, homosexuality, and obsession with status.

Unfortunately, the intrigue of the text isn't convincingly portrayed. The play was inspired by the real life fraudster David Hampton who talked his way into many New Yorker's apartments. This truth is stretched too far in this play. Paul first arrives bleeding from a stab wound. Within five minutes he is dressed and refreshed, and pontificating about literature. The play contains several events that I could not believe. This is partly the fault of the text and not helped by the flat performance of Tope Folarin as Paul.

Some of the cast play more than one character and this doesn't help. The worst example is early on when it seems the South African gold miner has ended up in bed with Paul, despite having apparently gone to the airport. Whoops - it's the same actor, but a different character, but this requires too much deduction by the audience for it to work.

The Kittredges, played by Poppy Burton-Morgan and Tyler Caffell are engaging, and Jack Farthing is excellent as Rick, one of the bratty kids, especially when displaying his exasperation at the terrible relationship he has with his father.

The play is at its best throughout the middle section, when there are more characters and the plot begins to move with some speed. With several characters on stage, and plenty of interaction, the cast work well. Unfortunately, I felt the plot had flaws, and that this production did not overcome them.

Andy Cotgreave, 30/11/04