Review #2: ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ at The Keegan Theatre

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In John Guare’s wonderfully enigmatic and slightly precocious play, Six Degrees of Separation, now playing at The Keegan Theatre—the ripples of interconnection run rampant as the author intended. This unique play is actually based on a scientific and mathematic theory that each human being on the planet is connected in some way by only six degrees of separation. Guare embellishes this theory by basing the core of his story on a true-life incident that was the talk of the upper-crust denizens of New York City in the early 1990s. A con-man who claimed to be the son of Sidney Poitier utilizes his wiles to gain entry into some of society’s most fashionable homes.

Susan Marie Rhea, Ray Ficca, and Kevin Adams. Photo by Cameron Whitman.
Susan Marie Rhea, Ray Ficca, and Kevin Adams. Photo by Cameron Whitman.

This compressed conceit (an elusive yet scintillating and highly verbal ninety –minutes of sheer provocation, reverie and social commentary) flows through a series of sharply-etched vignettes and subtly interactive staging.

Sartorially-striking Costume Design by Kristina Marie Martin adds brio to the ambience of the 1990’s timeframe throughout.

As I observed the stage, I was impressed with the striking minimalist and modern Stage Design (by the prolific Matthew Keenan). A large double-sided Kandinsky painting dangles from center stage and series of white screens and panels (exquisite Lighting Design by Colin Dieck) served to highlight the evocative and symbolic foreshadowing of events in this translucent piece of stagecraft. Throughout the play, technique/artifice and message/content are firmly wedded to one another —perhaps to help us see the dualism inherent throughout the play.

Director Brandon McCoy (who also has provided a tantalizing variety of musical compositions throughout) propels this play along with a closely –knit ensemble of actors that mesh together with finesse and ease. Mr. McCoy takes a very smart directorial approach and never allows the play to be too broad or, conversely, too trenchant or dry. The tone is pitch-perfect as he strikes just the right note of wit and social commentary by skewering the hypocrisy of guilty liberal rich society, then exposing it for all of its bluster, and then——finally turning his eye towards peering at the universal and transcending the limitations of the milieu that is originally lampooned.

Themes of commerce/mass-marketing versus real “art”, class snobbery versus the authenticity of the marginalized, truth versus lies, and reality versus appearance are all brought up and rigorously, amusingly played out throughout the proceedings. Interjections and witty repartee on filming the musical of Cats, musings on the gay milieu, pots of jam to assuage the rich, and flashes of nudity are just some of the various ingredients thrown into the fast-paced sensibility presented here.

McCoy weaves a subtly interactive feel as many of the actors address the audience directly from the apron of the stage. The Fourth wall is continually broken down for it is obvious that playwright Guare wants the audience to shatter the hermetically –sealed world of hypocrites and fools.

Especially effective is the very stirring and elongated monologue wherein the lead character, Ousia (played with supreme tone and sensitivity by Susan Marie Rhea) addresses the audience for a central aisle to convey how each human being is interconnected by only six degrees of separation.

I have reviewed many plays in which Ms. Rhea has appeared previously but here is a role that seems made tailor-made for her particular talents. Alternately hilarious, frank, provocative and sardonic in turn, Ms. Rhea is the linchpin in this play and decidedly holds this somewhat ephemeral play together from her opening lines to her devastating final retort to her husband. Ms. Rhea dominates the stage with a natural authority yet never overplays—-a sensitive and probing performance indeed.

As the art dealer/husband Flan, Ray Ficca performs with the requisite mixture of pomposity, rakish élan, cunning and polish. Especially noteworthy are Mr. Ficca’s delivery of his monologues where he muses on the meanings behind his beloved Cezanne paintings.

As the young interloper, Paul, Actor Ryan Swain manages to mix the dual components of his character with consummate ease. Whoever plays this part has to convey a calculating confidence that, concurrently, hides a damaged soul that who is suffering in the larger scheme of things—-Mr. Swain delivers the goods with aplomb and skill.

Mr. Swain is a joy to watch as he moves with cat-like grace and agility across the stage with his lithe, appealing and infectious presence. Swain possesses a marvelous gift for light comedy and his performance truly takes flight as he talks of the imagination as the key to life.

As the Art Dealer and owner of South African gold mines, Keegan stalwart Kevin Adams delivers another naturally absorbing and relaxed interpretation. Mr. Adams seems to perform from an interior “spot of stillness” that is never overly-fussy or technical yet you cannot take your eyes off of him. His work often reminds me of the quiet gravitas that Spencer Tracy or Henry Fonda exude in their roles.

 Ryan Swain and Patrick Joy. Photo by Cameron Whitman.
Ryan Swain and Patrick Joy. Photo by Cameron Whitman.

Special mention must also be given to the superior acting skills of Timothy H. Lynch as Dr. Fine —-Lynch excelled in a long monologue that was scorching in its emotional honesty.

Karen Novack (Kitty) and Jon Townson (Nick) played another wealthy couple who had also been conned with just the right mixture of horror, sarcasm, befuddlement and humiliation.

Kudos for the performance of Matthew Sparacino (Rick) and Kathleen Mason (Elizabeth) who played the roles of the callow, naive young struggling couple “taken –in” by the wiles of Paul with utter, unabashed emotional truth.

The whole cast excelled with their supporting parts ––supporting parts that consisted of a hustler (Josh Sticklin), a mentor to WASP living for Paul (Patrick Joy), a dual role of a Policeman/Doorman (Daniel Lyons) and a slew of disgruntled and quite vocal offspring (Ava Knox, Eli Pendry, Jonathan Helwig, and Christian Montgomery).

The transcendent vision of playwright John Guare has been replicated to perfection by Director Brandon McCoy and his cast. Do not miss Keegan Theatre’s exquisitely –mounted production of Six Degrees of Separation!

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

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Six Degrees of Separation plays through December 3, 2016, at the Keegan Theatre – 1742 Church Street NW, Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 265-3767, or purchase them online.

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David Friscic
David has always had a passionate interest in the arts from acting in professional dinner theatre and community theatre to reviewing film and local theatre in college to making numerous treks to New York City to indulge his interest in live theatre. An enthusiastic interest in writing has shown itself in a BA in English/Education and an MA in English Literature. Taken together, these two interests have culminated in the logical conclusion of writing for an arts blog. David moved up and down the East Coast due to his father's job at General Electric and this has helped him to perceive the world in a very open way. After his schooling, David taught in Catholic school systems for awhile and, then, spent three years in the seminary with two years at Catholic University studying Theology and one year in a practicuum working at a church in New York State. David currently works at the National Science Foundation as a Technical Information Specialist for the Office of Polar Programs and has had the great opportunity to go to Antarctica twice and Greenland once in support of the research community. He enjoys living in Bethesda and has taken courses at the Writer's Center. David enjoys swimming, traveling, reading, and working on committees at his condo. His major interest, however, is the arts and all it encompasses---from symphony, to film, to museum treks to live theatre. He counts having lunch with Lillian Gish and meeting Lily Tomlin, Geraldine Page, Maureen Stapleton, Liza Minnelli and Sandy Dennis as some of the more exciting encounters of his life.