"Six Degrees of Separation" by John Guare at ACT1 Theater, March 08, 2019 - March 24, 2019
Since the site is not allowing the posting of reviews in its normal place, the backlog of my reviews will be going to the forum
Title: the Fifth Degree
"Six Degrees of Separation" seems like a risky choice for church-based community theatre, with a script featuring nudity, homosexuality, and profanity. ACT1 has toned down the language, omitted the nudity, and sanitized the homosexuality to barely venture beyond a guy’s arm draped over a buddy’s shoulder. That removes some of the power of the story, but also prevents sensationalism from overwhelming it. All in all, it’s an approach that works.
Director Pam Duncan has put a definite stamp on the production. Phone conversations may start with a telephone receiver brought to an actor’s ear, but generally the actor’s hand drops and the conversation continues with the actor on the other side of the conversation appearing on the opposite side of the stage (sans phone). Scene changes are accomplished with blazing speed, often accompanied by on-stage costume changes as Ouisa (Phyllis H. Giller) and Flan (Jim Gray) go to their respective coat racks to swap out jackets, shoes, and accessories. Direct address to the audience fills in narration during these times. It all flows very smoothly.
Bob Cookson’s set shows us the elegant living room of Flan and Ouisa Kittredge, all ivory fabric and mahogany wood. Up center is the double-sided Kandinsky referenced in the script. It’s in a spotlight and slowly revolves before the show and during intermission, stopping to show one side as each act proceeds. It’s a nice touch.
Costumes (by Meagan Graham, Caroline Kuzel, and Jessica Williams) do a nice job of clothing the large cast, although the pink shirt the script refers to is the very palest of pinks, appearing near-white under stage lights. Costumes reflect the social status of the various characters, with some very nice outfits for the upper-class females.
Chris Voss’ props and Murray Mann’s lighting and sound design do all they need to. One nice prop touch is having two actors (siblings Nicholas and Meagan Graham) appear in the background holding objects as they are described. Lighting helps distinguish scenes in the living room center stage from scenes in a dorm room (stage right, with a bed pushed out for the scene) and in a shabby apartment (stage left, with a big trunk in place all the time). Phone conversation action in the stage right area (minus bed) is nicely lit, but actors moving from there to center go through a shadowed area.
Acting is good overall, with no performance detracting from the production. Ms. Giller is terrific as Ouisa, and exceptionally fine performances also come from Joshua Dover as a homosexual college student, Stephanie Escorza as an aspiring actress from Utah, and Tibor Szenti as a hoodwinked doctor. Mark Krohn adds a comic spin as a detective, and Alex Parkinson exudes elegance as a South African mine owner. Maya Garner equals Ms. Giller’s elegance as a friend of equal social standing, and Justin McCoy makes an amazing theatrical debut as Paul, the young con-man whose exploits fuel the trajectory of the play. There’s a true ensemble feel to the show.
Pam Duncan has directed a fluid production of a fairly talky play, keeping the running time down to a reasonable two hours (including intermission). The racy subject matter has been toned down from what it could be, making it more palatable for audiences entering a church building to view the entertainment, and the production is well-rehearsed. "Six Degrees of Separation" tells the tale of a society woman initially taken in by a con-man, then attempting to discover the truth about him, and the play itself has a bit of the same effect on audiences, taking them in with a theatrical flourish, then letting them ponder the ramifications of initial gullibility. It’s an interesting play, and ACT1 is giving it an interesting production.