Wednesday, June 12, 2013

SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION • Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog Theatre really seems to be on a roll.  In the past couple of seasons, they've handsomely produced everything from Psycho Beach Party to The Who's Tommy to Spring Awakening and the epic Angels in America.  In celebration of Stray Dog's 10th anniversary season, they're going back to their roots, producing the first play the company presented, John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation.  This 1990 Pulitzer Prize nominated play was inspired by a true story and popularized by the 1993 film bearing the same name.  The six degrees of separation theory asserts that everyone is connected to everyone else on the planet by a succession of six or fewer people.  This play is less about the theory though, and more about how you manage the realities within your own circle.

We begin in the posh Fifth Avenue apartment of art dealer Flanders and his wife Ouisa Kittredge (Gerry Love and Sarajane Alverson).  They’re snooty high society types but are always trying to angle their way up to higher rungs on the social ladder.  They're preparing to entertain their wealthy friend Geoffrey (Robert Ashton) in hopes of talking him into parting with $2 million for a Cezanne painting.  The schmoozing is interrupted when a young black guy named Paul (Greg Fenner) is let in by the doorman.  Paul is bleeding from a knife wound he got during an attempted mugging and claims to have ended up at their home because he attends Harvard with the Kittredges' children.

Gerry Love (Flanders Kittridge), Greg Fenner (Paul),
Sarajane Alverson (Ouisa Kittridge)
and Robert Ashton (Geoffrey).
Photo credit: John Lamb
After being patched up, Paul charms them with intellectual conversation, a delicious home-made dinner, and warm company that the Kittredges never get from their own kids.  Paul also tells them that he's in town to meet up with his father (Sidney Poitier no less), who's making a film adaptation of the musical Cats.  Flan and Ouisa find Paul intriguing and wouldn't mind traveling in a circle that included Sidney Poitier, so they offer him some pocket money and a room for the night so he can rest up.  Thing is, none of Paul's stories are true.  Not long after finding Paul in a compromising position the next morning, Flanders and Ouisa learn that they're the most recent victims of Paul's con.  Paul's been getting familiar with the upper-class neighbors, and their friends, Kitty (Kay Love) and Larkin (Christopher R. Brenner) have also been duped.  They all recruit their kids in an effort to discover how Paul knows so many details about their lives.  While Paul is busy deceiving another couple -- a young pair of actors who take him in (to disastrous results), Ouisa Kittredge finds herself, despite Paul's duplicity, emotionally invested in him.

Michael Monsey (Dr. Fine), Mitch Eagles (the Detective),
Greg Fenner (Paul), Gerry Love (Flanders Kittridge),
Sarajane Alverson (Ouisa Kittridge),
Kay Love (Kitty) and Christopher R. Brenner (Larkin).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Alverson and Love make a believable upper-crust couple.  While Love's Flanders keeps his distance a bit from Paul, Alverson's Ouisa ends up confronting her own alienation and false comforts.  Fenner is appealing and cunning as Paul but also shows us a deep-seated insecurity beneath the cool veneer.  Stefanie Kluba (Elizabeth) and Jeffrey Salger (Rick) also do good work as the young couple, as well as Michael Monsey as Dr. Fine, another victim.  Shannon Walton, Zach Wachter, Joseph Corey Henke, Richard Stewart, Evan R. Fornachon, Mitch Eagles and Paul Edwards all turn in sharp supporting performances.  In addition to directing the play, Gary F. Bell also tackles not only the costume design, but the scenic design that economically says "rich", complete with a slowly spinning two-sided Kandinsky painting.  Tyler Duenow provides the lighting design and the sound design is courtesy of Justin Been.

This is really a fascinating play to watch unfold.  In this “internet-age", connections are easier than ever to make with people all over the world, but that accessibility sheds new light on this 23 year old play.  What is the quality of those connections, and why are we drawn to certain people in the first place, and what does it say about us?  Like that Kandinsky painting, most all of us have two sides -- regardless of what kind of hustler you are.


Michael Monsey (Dr. Fine), Gerry Love (Flanders Kittridge),
Sarajane Alverson (Ouisa Kittridge), Kay Love (Kitty),
Christopher R. Brenner (Larkin), Zach Wachter (Woody),
Shannon Walton (Tess), Richard Stewart (Doug)
and Joseph Corey Henke (Ben).
Photo credit: John Lamb
SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION

Written by John Guare
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through June 22 | tickets: $18 - $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, final Saturday, June 22 at 2pm & 8pm

Cast:
Sarajane Alverson (Ouisa Kittredge), Gerry Love (Flanders Kittredge), Greg Fenner (Paul), Robert Ashton (Geoffrey), Kay Love (Kitty), Christopher R. Brenner (Larkin), Michael Monsey (Dr. Fine), Shannon Walton (Tess), Zach Wachter (Woody), Joseph Corey Henke (Ben), Richard Stewart (Doug), Evan R. Fornachon (Trent), Jeffrey Salger (Rick), Stefanie Kluba (Elizabeth), Mitch Eagles (Detective) and Paul Edwards (Policeman/Doorman).

Creative:
Scenic/costume design by Gary F. Bell; lighting design by Tyler Duenow; sound design by Justin Been; stage manager, Justin Been.

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