Friday, October 26, 2007

"Six Degrees of Separation:" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG <¿>

'Six Degrees of Separation,' John Guare's 1990 Broadway hit which was turned into an even more successful film in 1993 starring Will Smith, Stockard Channing and Donald Sutherland, is back on stage at SF Playhouse. It features a standout performance by Daveed Diggs as Paul and excellent starring roles by Robert Parsons and Susi Damilano as the art dealer Flan and his wife Ouisa.

Guare's story is not a comfortable one for theater audiences, who are for the most part the age of the clueless parents in the story. Their kids despise them (Jennifer Siebel shines as the spot-on perfect daughter Tess -- "I'm getting married and moving to Afghanistan...") and the parents' acquisitive lifestyles have left them perfect targets for the conniving Paul, who pretends (brilliantly) to be the son of actor Sidney Poitier.

Three sets of parents are taken in by Paul's deception. In the first act (the show is 85 minutes with no intermission), the empty lives of each parent are exposed for all to see. As a result, when their children appear in Act Two, and we find them played so over-the-top and self-absorbed, we have no choice but to try to start rooting for their parents again and that isn't easy to do after Act One. We have to choose between Crazy and Delusional or Shallow and Defamatory.

What we want to know is why Paul, clearly a genius, has become so disturbed and crazy. But you don't get neat story-packages with John Guare, and Bill English's spare production gives us no further inklings.

That said, the show keeps everyone honest as many truths hit close to the bone. "Six Degrees of Separation" deals with deception and racism and class but at its heart it is about loneliness. Each flawed character is, in the end, looking for a new experience, for something more than they have, even though they are smart enough to know that what they are hoping for will not be quite what they find. Flan says it best: "The imagination is not our escape. On the contrary. The imagination is the place we are all trying to get to."

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG <¿>

The SF Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Six Degrees of Separation" a star and a half for Daveed Diggs's bravura performance, another star for great lines like: "In the black newspapers, the theater section is right next to the want ads" and a half star for the way the ensemble moves flawlessly through a difficult plot with no intermission. Plus, there is a Bright Bangle for Ken Sonkin's South African, Jewish and (Italian?) Detective accents. The play also receives one upside down question mark <¿>: this reviewer will admit RIGHT NOW that, after seeing the play and the film and reading countless commentaries, he still can't figure out what 'six degrees of separation' has to to do with...well, anything. But nobody else seems to be having any problem with that, so John Guare has the last laugh.

Three Stars, a Bangle and an UDQ for "Six Degrees of Separation." Go see it. Daveed Diggs will knock your socks off.
San Francisco Playhouse
533 Sutter Street (Upstairs)
Through November 17 - $38


Editor said...
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Editor said...

Considering you posted this at 1:10pm on Oct. 26th, I'm assuming you saw the show somewhere between October 10th and 25th. During that time, JENNIFER SIEBEL was off filming a major motion picture, and KENDRA OBERHAUSER was performing as Tess and Elizabeth.

Not to be a stick in the mud, but wanted credit where it was due... Thank you! Forgive me if I'm mistaken in my assumptions.