Six Degrees Of Separation – February 2010


By John Guare

Directed by David Grindley

Venue: Old Vic Theatre

Date: Wednesday 17th February 2010

We’d seen this years ago with Stockard Channing and Adrian Lester, and apart from bits of the story, what I remember most from that production was the cynical humour, showing up the high flyers in New York society as vain, superficial and gullible. This production was much nicer to the socialites, and with the cultural references dating the play so quickly, perhaps that was inevitable. Steve rated this higher than I did, based on the excellent performances and the overall quality of the production. I agree with him on all of that, I just find the piece too insubstantial to rate it any higher.

The set was simple, with a sofa and table on the revolve, starting with its back to the audience, a double-sided Kandinsky hung at the back and rotating gently before the start, and four curved wall sections that sneakily backed away at one point (I didn’t notice them moving) to open the stage up. Two side walls had the main entrances and the main colour was a plush warm red, with the sofa in green. The inkwell and the dog picture that the husband is concerned about at the start are dangled over the side of the balcony (or box?) to right and left, and spotlit, so we won’t miss them.

The story concerns a young black man who cons his way into rich people’s apartments by pretending to be the son of Sidney Poitier. He’s very charming, talks knowledgeably about Catcher In The Rye, and gets small sums of money from his hosts. When the Kitteridges find out he’s also brought a rent boy into the house for some casual sex, they’re horrified (of the ‘we could all have been murdered in our beds’ kind).

There’s a lot of humour in the situation as the couples discover a number of them have been taken in, and when they try to report the incidents to the police, they realise that no actual crime has been committed. A little more investigation on the parents’ part brings their kids into the play – sulky teenagers or what! The shock expressed by one of them that they gave away his pink shirt was good fun, though I think that bit went on a little too long. The prospect of the children narrowing down their friends to a small group of suspects by looking for drug addicts, alcoholics, homosexuals and similar brought suitably contemptuous responses. As if!

Ms Kitteridge soon figured out who to talk to, a chap who was now at MIT, and she got the full story of Paul’s start on his career of non-crime. The MIT chap bribed Paul to have sex with him by teaching him how to speak and behave, and feeding him all the information about his classmates’ families that Paul would use later to carry out his con trick.

When these families go public, Paul has to change tack, and now he cons a young couple from Utah, up in New York to make it big. This time, he tells them he’s Mr Kitteridge’s illegitimate and unacknowledged son, living in Central Park, and trying to get in to see his father. They offer him a bed, he cons the guy out of their savings after the woman has turned him down, and then spends the money treating himself and Utah guy to a great night out at the Rainbow followed by sex. Realising what’s happened, Utah guy throws himself off a building (took me a while to get that it was him), and with Utah woman making a complaint, the police finally have something to go on.

When Paul makes a phone call to the Kitteridges, they, or rather Mrs Kitteridge, persuade him to wait where he is; they will come and pick him up and take him to the police themselves. She makes all sorts of promises to him, as his fantasies are rampant, and although he clearly has brains and charm we can see he needs a lot of help if he’s going to be able to use his talents. Mr Kitteridge, much less tolerant than his wife, lets the police know where Paul is, and with heavy traffic delaying them, the Kitteridges arrive too late.

Since they’re not family, and don’t know Paul’s real name, Mrs Kitteridge can’t find out what happened to Paul. She hears, some months later, that a young man hanged himself in prison using a pink shirt, and while she’s telling us this, we see Paul walking along the top of the wall towards the picture. I think when he gets there, he points at it, and smiles at the audience. Lights.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at

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