Reviewed by Kym Clayton
Harry Dewar’s slick production of John Guare’s play Six Degrees of Separation is another quality show presented by OPUS Performing Arts Community. Based on real events, it tells the story of Paul, a young black man pretending to be Sidney Poitier’s (non existent) son who hustles his way into the households and hospitality of the well-to-do of Manhattan by pretending to be a friend of their children. He also cons the less well-to-do. The plot takes us into Paul’s world and his eventual undoing, and exposes him to be a lost and complex individual who desperately craves affection and attention. Above all he is an outsider who desperately wants to belong to something that he thinks is better. A key aspect of the narrative is the idea that everyone on the planet is connected to everyone else by a sequence of six other people, and it is these connections that drive Paul. At the same time, the play explores the tissue thin principles and values of those intoxicated by and attracted to ‘celebrity culture’.
April Stuart – as Ouisa, one of Paul’s rich victims–was the perfect subject for his deception. She beautifully captured the turmoil that derives from living one lifestyle, because it is easy, but longing for and edging closer to something else that is more meaningful but difficult to attain. Lindsay Dunn brought out the superficiality of Flan, her art-dealer husband who treats masterpieces of art as mere merchandise. The text that Guare gives to Flan is at times ‘thin’, and Dunn does very well with what really amounts to limited opportunities.
As Paul, Sean Flierl was very good. Under Dewar’s tight direction, Flierl blended the right amount of charm, assuredness and subterfuge. His lengthy monologue about Catcher in the Rye, in which he harangues Ouisa and Flan about the uses and abuses of imagination, was tight and compelling. Delivered with controlled gesture and inflection, and without ever leaving his chair, Flierl inextricably and believably drew the audience into Paul’s world of pretence.
The remaining members of the large cast – David Mitchell, Kristofa Cassano, Terry Crow, Janet Jauncey, Myles Teakle, Amay Klar, Alice Edgely, Joshua Harvey, Scott Allen and Christoper Daw – all provided strong and convincing support. No weak links. The characterisations of the alienated adolescent children of Ouisa and Paul, and of their friends, were especially appealing. Cassano handled his nude scene with assuredness.
The appropriately minimalist set included translucent scrims onto which images of art works and New York scenes were projected, or were cleverly back-lit to reveal and convey actors as being in different temporal and physical locations.
Without an interval, the play was over in ninety minutes, but you were left wanting more.