>six degrees of separation by the stage club

>reviewed by kenneth kwok

>date: 10 oct 2002
>time: 8pm
>venue: the dbs arts centre
>rating: **1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


American playwright John Guare's SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION has been much-feted over the years, scoring the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1990 and an Olivier Best Play Award in 1993. It was subsequently made into a film (for which Guare himself wrote the screenplay) starring Stockard Channing and a young Will Smith. All the hullabaloo is not undeserved, for the play is electric with intelligence. Its high-concept premise goes like this: art dealers Flan and Ouisa Kittredge move in the upper echelons of New York and so are rather surprised when a young man called Paul staggers into their apartment claiming that a) he has been mugged, b) he is a good friend of their Harvard-educated children, and c) he is the son of Hollywood superstar Sidney Poitier. They take him at his word, offer him a room for the night, some bandages and their son's pink shirt; in return, he cooks for them and captivates them with talk about his father, and with his ideas on art and the imagination. But he brings more than just magic into their lives: he also sneaks in a male prostitute after lights-out - a minor detail that the Kittredges don't take too kindly. What is revealed in the series of investigations that follows is that Paul is a con man and a drifter who has been using this ruse to inveigle his way into Fifth Avenue homes - but for what purpose? Nothing is ever actually taken from any of the homes, after all.

The script, an indictment of the shallowness of rarefied Fifth Avenue life, is both clever and provocative. We are asked to accept the unlikely proposition that Paul may have brought more into Ouisa Kettridge's life in the few hours of their association than her children have in their entire lives - we are asked to accept this and, largely, we do. And the script is funny. The constant lampooning of an alleged 'Cats' movie that Sidney Poitier is filming is particularly entertaining, and there are many asides which sparkle with sarcasm and wit. In places, the pace slips and the prose turns purple, and perhaps the ending is a little unsteady on its feet, but essentially this an impressive, intelligent and impactful play.

>>'Ultimately, it was the inconsistency and lack of preparation that made the play the less than perfect sum of its oddly assorted parts'

What makes this particular production of it lack the zing it should have possessed is partly that the production team was unable to smooth over the few inadequacies of the script, but largely that they failed on many occasions to make the most of its many strengths. The main problem seemed to be that everyone was under-rehearsed, with flubbed lines and a noisy backstage, to say nothing of some truly shocking lighting that resulted in faces completely lost in shadow and spotlights often hitting their marks much too late (when they hit at all).

Certainly the cast was an inherently able one but it proved inconsistent. Kathryn Baron, for example, in the demanding role of Ouisa (for which Channing was Oscar-nominated) was great in many places but, alas, she was clumsy in many others, as if she had not thought through her character as thoroughly as she should have. Likewise, Kenneth Karasu and Roy Marsh as Paul and Flan Kittredge respectively did nothing wrong (save for some dodgy accents) but nothing absolutely fabulous or inspired with their roles either.

Director Denise Marsh made some clever directorial decisions (the use of two servants to assist in prop and costumes changes on the stage itself is one, and another is the way she played with exits and entrances) but there were moments when it was clear that she too had not spent enough time thinking things through. The most egregious instance took place in a supposedly miniscule New York loft where a character pointlessly traverses the entire stage, walking straight through where I had imagined the wall to be, just to get rid of some incidental props.

And also, while the set may have been a thing of beauty, it was clearly the bastard child of poor communication between director and designer, because the cast simply could not move within it, resulting in some very awkward blocking around an inescapable centrally-placed sofa. In terms of casting decisions for the supporting ensemble, Marsh also wavered between the assured (the likes of Aimee De Abreu, Bruno Luse and Daniel Toyne impressed in their small roles) and the seemingly rushed and random, with people popping in and out without being particularly good, and only being memorable for their mediocrity.

Ultimately, it was the inconsistency and lack of preparation that made the play the less than perfect sum of its oddly assorted parts. The script deserved more - the production should have been much funnier, much more biting. As it was, it was only fitfully so, on both counts. The whole affair had the air of a group of friends playing to its own audience and on that level, it was arguably adequate, but I felt more than a little disappointed. Where was the fire in its belly?