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'Six Degrees' Tests Ideas Of Connection

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bill Cross, Victor Perez, Kyle Marie in Ann Arbor Civic Theatre production 'Six Degrees of Separation.'

'Six Degrees' tests ideas of connection



Perhaps the most lasting contribution of John Guare’s play “She Degrees of Separation” is how it fuels the ego through the game of name-dropping.

Through his stage heroine, the playwright theorizes that the entire human race is at most only six persons removed from one another, . wever tenuous the connection.

Guare’s intriguing notion at times obscures his 1990 dark comedy, even though it was a whopping hit on Broadway and at least a critically praised movie.

“I think the title is misleading, in that it’s not really what the play is about,” says Cassie Mann, who directs the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre production of “Six Degrees of Sepa-ion” opening Wednesday at Lydia Mendelssohn Theater.

“I’m not really sure there is a specific point to the play,” Mann adds. “It may be more a case of Guare having fun with words and characters and moving back and forth between fantasy and reality."

The very New York-ish “Six Degrees of Separation” does suggest bonds - however oddly wrought between the rich and the merely 11-off, between the well-off and the hustling homeless. Flan (short for Flanders) and Ouisa (short for Louise) Kittredge are upwardly mobile Manhattan art dealers who yearn to move into the rarified world of the truly high-rollers.

The Kittredges’ comfy condo life is disrupted one night by Paul (played by Victor Perez), a handsome young African-American -anger who claims he’s been mugged on the street. Paul also claims he attends Harvard and knows the Kittredges’ kids - and that he’s Sidney Poitier’s son.

Impressed by the dropped name, Ouisa (Kyle Marie) and Flan (Bill Cross) find themselves charmed by the intellectual, art-loving, expert gourmand Paul - who is infinitely more affable than their own bratty children. Indeed, they’re proud to nut him up for the night, since he _Js them his father’s hotel suite won’t be available until the following morning.

What subsequently transpires sends Flan and Ouisa into an almost nonstop tizzy of terror, distrust and disbelief - and in Ouisa’s case, a sense of not knowing what she wants out of life.

“Paul may be a brilliant con artist, but he’s not out to rob people, he’s not out to humiliate them,” Mann explains. “He’s looking for a family, and he’s come to believe that wealth automatically makes peoples’ lives better. So he preys on the rich, even though he comes to realize their lives aren’t as wonderful as he thought.”

“Sue Degrees” moves at a frantic one-act pace, with the dithering Flan and Ouisa often stepping out of a scene to speak directly to the audience. Second thoughts fly like bullets on the subjects of wealth, marriage, most of all permanence. “I hope we don’t play this as any kind of preachment,” says Mann. “We’re playing up Guare’s dark humor as much as we can, because that’s what seems most prominent.

“I find it fascinating to ask people who’ve read and/or seen the play what they think of it. And I get something different from everybody. For example, just when you’re feeling a lot of sympathy for Ouisa and Flan as parents, Guare slips in a conversation where Ouisa is totally dismissive of her daughter and her feelings.

“I enjoy the fact that Guare doesn’t allow you to try to tie too much together into one theme. I love the way he uses words, the way they flow and fling thoughts out at you. It’s wonderful. And I think I started enjoying the show when I stopped believing there has to be an ultimate point to all of it, that everything has to mesh, and we’re supposed to leave the theater feeling we’ve somehow been changed.”

The large cast also includes Troy D. Sill, Ron Atsey and Karen Ki-phardt. Designer Joy Dennis “has built a set that’s all sorts of levels, very abstract, not at all realistic,” Mann notes.

Theatergoers should be advised there is a brief bit of nudity, male and from the rear.

“The guy’s covered up where he needs to be,” Mann says. “And in any case, he moves so fast he’ll be gone before anyone in the audience can get up and leave.”

"Six Degrees of Separation" runs Wednesday through Saturday, Oct. 2-5, at Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre in the Michigan League, 911 N. University Ave. Curtain is 8 p.m. each night, plus a 2 p.m. Saturday matinee. Tor tickets and information call 971-2228.