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Even if this play were worthless, which it is not quite, the concept that gives it its title has passed into the American lexicon, so it will long be remembered, if in name only.  Based on true events, it tells the story of a New York City couple, Flanders (Flan) and Louisa (Ouisa) Kittredge,  unsuccessful private art dealers who are desperately clinging to their Manhattan socialite lifestyle.  Flan is cash strapped and badly needs to turn up some money to complete a two million dollar deal.  One night, as they are hitting up a South African acquaintance for some money, a young black man, Paul, turns up on their doorstep.  He claims to be a Harvard classmate of their kids who has just been mugged in Central Park.  Any initial resistance they may feel towards this stranger evaporates when he cooks them and their guest dinner,  expounds on Catcher in the Rye, reveals that his father is Sidney Poitier, and intimates that he might be able to get them all jobs as extras in his Dad's movie version of Cats.  He plays their liberal guilt and their social climbing hunger to perfection and makes such an impression on the South African that he agrees to invest with Flan on the art deal.  The grateful couple allow Paul to stay overnight in their apartment while they go out.

His implausible story begins to unravel though when, returning early to their apartment, they find him in bed with a male street hustler and throw them both out.  Flan takes particular relish in telling the story of their visitor and they are surprised to find that Paul has similarly hustled a number of their friends.  They, especially Ouisa, become obsessed with finding out who Paul really is; apparently just a street hustler.  He drops back into their lives several times, and they are tangentially involved in a scandal when Paul seduces and dumps a young man who then commits suicide.

Most of the philosophizing in the play, with the exception of the Six Degrees concept, is fairly silly and the people are immensely annoying.  There are some funny lines, but most of the humor comes from watching the loathsome Kittredges humiliate themselves repeatedly.  It is perhaps the ultimate comment on the kind of people that the play portrays that none of it is very believable.  Despite the nonfiction origins, it strains credulity to believe that people who are this shallow actually exist.  I'd recommend it mildly, but only for its cruel treatment of a group of people I don't much like--upper class NY City liberals.  The LA Theatre Works production has the added bonus that Flan is played by Alan Alda in a near self caricature.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (C)

  

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Plays
Book-related and General Links:

    -OBIT: He Conned the Society Crowd but Died Alone (DAN BARRY, July 19, 2003, NY Times)     -ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA : Guare, John
    -John Guare :  Recipient of the 2001  Edward Albee Last  Frontier Playwright Award
    -ARTICLE : Guare at Yale -- six degrees of separation (Rebecca Howland, Yale Daily News)
    -SixDegrees.com
    -ESSAY : six degrees TO NOWHERE :  A Web site that connects  you to everyone you don't need to know. (Janelle Brown, Salon)
    -Six Degrees of Separation Game
    -REVIEW : of Six Degrees : directed by Xerxes Mehta  The Maryland Stage Company (Richard Gist, NBCi, June 23, 1999)
    -REVIEW : of Lake Hollywood by John Guare (Charles Isherwood, Variety)
    -REVIEW : of Lydie Breeze  by John Guare (Charles Isherwood, Variety)
    -REVIEW : of Marco Polo Sings a Solo  by John Guare (Charles Isherwood, Variety)
    -REVIEW : of Love's Fire  by John Guare (Charles Isherwood, Variety)
    -REVIEW : of Bosoms and Neglect  by John Guare (Charles Isherwood, Variety)

PRODUCTION :
    -LA Theatre Works

FILM :
    -FILMOGRAPHY :    John Guare (Imdb)
    -INFO : Six Degrees of Separation (1993) (Imdb)
    -BUY IT : Six Degrees of Separation (1993) DVD (Amazon.com)
    -REVIEW : "Six Degrees of Separation" :  Will Smith's first starring role is still his best. (Michael Sragow, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of Six Degrees of Separation (Rita Kempley,  Washington Post, December 22, 1993)
    -REVIEW : Six Degrees (Andrew Howe, Film Written)

GENERAL :
    -Tony Awards site
    -ESSAY : Love of the game : Americans have always had a soft spot for con artists. But will the honeymoon soon be over?  (CHRIS WRIGHT, Boston Phoenix)

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