Six Degrees of Separation by John Guare
The Old Vic, London SE1
Black and White and Red All Over
Before the net revolutionized relationships, the idea of six degrees of separation was popularized by this fascinating 1990 play inspired by a real-life story of a trickster who posed as film star Sidney Poitier’s (non-existent) son. A New York art dealer and his wife take in a wounded stranger offering him a spare room, only to discover they are among several dupes in their social circle of a conman who has filleted information out of a male lover, a former classmate of their children. The charge of racism, cited at one point by the couple’s self-righteous Harvard-educated daughter, is a red herring compared to more intricate veins connecting conned and conman. On one side, the trickster (Obi Abili) living on the edge whose credentials could have been easily checked in a published biography. On the other, the art dealer (Anthony Head) with wife (the excellent Lesley Manville) in tow gambling on using borrowed cash from an ambiguous source to broker a deal. In fact, the six degrees theory is a glib rationalization of a far more confused kaleidoscope where modern life’s contradictions, evasions and literary self-consciousness allow the strained sophisticates to want to believe in the purported idealism of a fake. Acting in a preview performance of this classy revival held attention but TLT found the production curiously unaffecting, more red faces all round than viciousness and sordidness, not helped by some bland but showy male nudity. So, while the production’s emotional investment should have remained high for a Facebook and Twitter generation, just about an amber light.