‘Six Degrees of Separation’ at Port City Playhouse by Francine Schwartz

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FIVE STARS 82x15
John Guare’s award-winning Six Degrees of Separation was a tremendously successful Broadway play, eventually made into a movie, which played out the notion that all people are connected, and the connection is quantifiable in terms of a chain of individuals, each of whom know each other and can be used to link individuals who seem unlikely to have anything in common. Friendship links can become social capitol, as Facebook attempts to commercialize. In Port City Playhouse’s powerful production, the play explores the connection between two parties of vastly different social milieus. Can they connect?

left to right: Chuck Leonard (Flan), Jennifer McClean (Tess), Shaina Goldschlag (Beth), Tricia O'Neill-Politte (Kitty), Dell Pendergrast (Larkin), Jon Poole (Woody), Dana Gattuso (Ouisa), Lonnie D. Simmons (Doug), Ron Field (Dr. Fine). Photo by J. Andrew Simmons. .
left to right: Chuck Leonard (Flan), Jennifer McClean (Tess), Shaina Goldschlag (Beth), Tricia O’Neill-Politte (Kitty), Dell Pendergrast (Larkin), Jon Poole (Woody), Dana Gattuso (Ouisa), Lonnie D. Simmons (Doug), Ron Field (Dr. Fine). Photo by J. Andrew Simmons.

Into the lives of two Manhattan art dealers comes a young African American man who claims to be the son of Sidney Poitier, in distress after being robbed. He presents himself as a Harvard classmate of their children, and not only knows a lot about their lives but seems to have mastered the social trops and mannerisms that support his claim. Events occur which call that claim into question.  How did he know these facts? Why is he motivated to connect with the couple? Has class become more relevant than race? His successful trajectory through the lives of other Manhattanites demonstrates an unexpected credulity.  It is this credulity, and the hunger for connection of the other characters the most provocative and thought provoking element of this drama?Dana Gattuso (Ouisa Kittrrdge) and Chuck Leonard (Flan Kittredge) are the most masterful actors in this production. Also excellent are Daniel McKay (Hustler) who goes from nearly naked to displaying his charms – in what appears to be a $400 Etro shirt – without loosing his grip on being a shady character. Paul is played by Chaz Pando who is a talented young man with many credits as an actor, Artistic Director, and producer despite his young age, and his experience contributes to his powerfully convincing performance. Kyle McGruther (Trent Conway) plays a classmate of the young Kittridges who barters his insider’s knowledge of the Kittridges and other socialite families to gain the affection of his love object. His dress and diction and passion display the importance of subtle behaviors as class- markers.

However, the actors playing other young preppies show little indication though their clothing, manners, or language of the class to which they have a legitimate claim. Marcus Anderson (Rick) adds a tragic note to the play showing that Paul’s behavior is not innocuous or without real victims. His athleticism is helpful to establish him as a young man going through a sexual identify crisis.The remaining cast members are Kathleen Alvania (Elizabeth), Ron Field (Dr. Fine), Shaina Goldschlag (Beth), Jennifer McClean (Tess), Tricia O’Neill-Politte (Kitty), Dell Pendergrast (Larkin), Jon Poole (Woody), Lonnie Simons (Doug), Carl West  (Detective/Doorman), and Cal Whitehurst (Geoffrey), who fine performance adds an international spin to the issues of class and racial politics.

My favorite scene and perhaps the most difficult to stage, powerfully staged and directed by Mary Ayala-Bush, were the confrontations between the Kittridge’s daughter and her parents, as well as her investigation of the source of Paul’s information about the family, which she conducted with the help of her school yearbook.

Trent (Kyle McGruther) and Paul (Chaz Pando). Photo by J. Andrew Simmons.
Trent (Kyle McGruther) and Paul (Chaz Pando). Photo by J. Andrew Simmons.

The effective but minimalist set consisted of two couches facing in opposite directions, which facilitated the balanced orientation of the action. All sides of the audience got  an equally good view of the action. Costume Design was provided by Kit Sibley, which was most effective with respect to the older characters. Sound Design was provided by David Correia, and a running crew provided the simple but effective lighting.

Running Time: One hour and 15 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Six Degrees of Separation plays through May 4, 2013 at Port City Playhouse – 1819 North Quaker Lane, in Alexandria, Virginia. Tickets are available to purchase online until three hours prior to performance. If available, tickets can be purchased at the theatre Box Office within one hour prior to the performance time.