CROTON FALLS— IT is a well-known tall tale, taken from truth. A good-looking, slick, bright psychopath insinuates himself on some rich people, beguiles them with his repartee, social savvy and celebrity connections — the son of Sidney Poitier is who he claims to be — and he can cook, too.
Out of extraordinary deceptions, John Guare fashioned a stunning play, which opened in 1990. “This is about connections,” the audience was told before a performance of “Six Degrees of Separation,” produced by Wordplay II at the Schoolhouse Theater here. “We’re not as far apart from each other as we may assume.” Today’s performance, which was to have been the last, is sold out. Two more performances, on Dec. 3 and 5, have been added.
Written with crafty minimalism, “Six Degrees of Separation” is an exploration of moral tenuousness, misguided priorities and what it is that links or removes us from others.
The hoax was perpetrated by the real David Hampton, who in 1983 duped a group of notable New Yorkers and was imprisoned less than two years for attempted burglary, reduced from more severe charges that included petty larceny and criminal impersonation. In July, Mr. Hampton, who nine months earlier was acquitted on one count of harassing Mr. Guare, lost the civil suit he filed against the playwright for using aspects of his life in a play. Next month, the film version, with a screenplay written by the playwright, is to be released. Talk about connections.
Even though Mr. Guare has mastered the art of fine name-dropping (Kandinsky, Donald Barthelme, Louis Auchincloss) and is writing about hollow, unexamined lives, some of those lives, he concedes, go on contentedly in their posturing ignorant bliss. But one, Ouisa Kittredge, is indelibly touched by the magical imposter, the fictional Paul — Paul Poitier Kittredge, if you ask him — who is modeled on Mr. Hamilton.
More than most ostensibly truth-telling plays, “Six Degrees of Separation” threatens an audience with upsets that most people do not choose to confront. Paul is less a villain than a rejected, conniving outsider who spots phonies and uses them to crash a society otherwise off limits.
Paul is a contemporary variation of Holden Caulfield who regales his duped hosts with an analysis of the destructive streak in Salinger’s hero.
Though he represents envy’s fallout, Paul’s quest is for a purity of experience unknown to his high-class role models. When Ouisa asks him what he is after, his answer is “everlasting friendship.” Ouisa’s response: “Nobody has that.”
Explaining a sexual interlude with a male hustler, Paul says: “I was so happy, I wanted to add sex to it. Don’t you do that?” Ouisa answers: “No.”
Under Cara Caldwell Watson’s dextrous direction, except for a dubiously inserted intermission, and in Jonathan D. Johnson’s seductive performance, Paul’s innocence is not lost. The actor balances the mysterious scam artist’s unscrupulousness, defiance and sheer gall with grace and imaginative boldness.
Maureen Torsney-Weir (Ouisa) is overly emphatic in the perception of her own pretenses and too obviously smitten by the fascinating intruder. The actress delivers her monologue about connections and separations rather too explanatorily, but in the end, she creates a thoroughly perplexed, compassionate and attractive woman.
Howard Lipson conveys shallowness, complacency and rather an excess of dullness as Ouisa’s husband, Flanders, a money-driven art dealer. Herbert Gould has elegance as their King Midas-rich friend and benefactor from South Africa. Christine Child (Kitty) is very adept at being uppity, and Gary Jones (Larkin, who runs a foundation) are an enthusiastic second couple of suckers. Jim Posner is a gullible obstetrician, a cretin, by his son Douglas’s description, another of Paul’s victims.
A very good cast of young actors plays assorted snarling offspring. Raphe Branca’s double feat as a spiteful New York rich kid (Douglas) and an ingenuous young actor (Rick) from Utah who is the most catastrophic consequence of Paul’s charms, and Michelle Conte as Rick’s mouthy girlfriend come off as considerably more than very good. This is the Schoolhouse’s most ambitious production yet, and it couldn’t be more, yes, connected to the play’s new-found currency. Remember to see the play before the movie. Either way, don’t flee from enlightenment.
“Six Degrees of Separation” by John Guare in its Westchester premiere at the Schoolhouse Theater, Route 22N at Owens Road, Croton Falls. Today’s 4 P.M. performance is sold out. Additional performances are scheduled on Dec. 3 at 8 P.M. and Dec. 5 at 7 P.M. Box office: 277-8477.
SOURCE: New York Times