Stage Review: Theatre Memphis' 'Six Degrees' Connects

Courtesy of Theatre Memphis
Marc Gill (standing) plays a conniving young man who charms and deceives his unsuspecting hosts, played by (from left) Greg Boller, Kell Christie and Barclay Roberts, in "Six Degrees of Separation."

Courtesy of Theatre Memphis Marc Gill (standing) plays a conniving young man who charms and deceives his unsuspecting hosts, played by (from left) Greg Boller, Kell Christie and Barclay Roberts, in "Six Degrees of Separation."

Six Degrees of Separation

Performances continue at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 10 at Theatre Memphis, 630 Perkins Ext. Tickets are $23 for adults, $15 for students. Call 901-682-8323.

The 1990 stage drama "Six Degrees of Separation" long has been established as a culturally significant piece of theater, not the least because the title — referring to the concept that everyone in the world is linked by six people — famously morphed into the parlor game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, wherein you try to guess how celebrities are related to Mr. Footloose by stringing films together.

The movie adaptation of "Six Degrees," in 1993, starred Will Smith in his first big dramatic role — a homosexual con artist.

Smith, who soon after became an alpha-male staple of action movies, said he regretted making the film. He worried it would tarnish his macho image. This was long before "Brokeback Mountain."

(Incidentally, Kevin Bacon played a gay hustler in the movie "JFK" (1991), which also starred Donald Sutherland, who was also in "Six Degrees of Separation," thus giving Smith a Bacon number of 2.)

All of this preface is simply to make the point that Theatre Memphis' elegant new production of "Six Degrees of Separation" is, in one sense, yet another well-known play in a season of familiar titles.

In another sense, this keenly directed production by Tony Isbell still packs an unexpected wallop. It's an intellectual roller coaster ride that pushes buttons and connects dots. Isbell doesn't spare the audience the shocks that John Guare's hypnotically tense script delivers.

The play is a trial, of sorts. Each scene presents new evidence to the audience, the jury.

Flan (Barclay Roberts and Ouisa (Kell Christie) are wealthy New York sophisticates whose lives are upended when a young black man arrives in their swanky living room claiming to be the son of Sidney Poitier.

Actor Marc Gill (as the presumptive Paul Poitier) deftly charms the couple with his erudite speech and humble demeanor. He plays them like a harp, stoking their egos and amazing them with a brilliant speech about the use of imagination in the novel "The Catcher in the Rye."

The charade soon crumbles, however, and the couple find that they aren't the only ones in their circle of socialites who have encountered the smooth impostor.

The drama has a sharp, classical feeling, and the entire cast is on point with the tight rhythmic flow of the script.

"Six Degrees of Separation" challenges an audience to think deeply about the connections we make in life, not in terms of how those connections might add up to amusing anecdotes to share at dinner parties, but how they also have a profound impact on our lives.

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