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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sunset's Revealing 'Six Degrees of Separation'

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It is said that real life mirrors art. John Guare's play Six Degrees of Separation, which opened last weekend at Sunset Playhouse, uses both as a starting point. Six Degrees is based upon a real account that began in 1983 with a smooth-talking young con man who pretended to be the son of actor Sidney Poitier. He talked his way into the households of wealthy Upper East Siders in Manhattan, throwing around the names of his unwitting hosts' children at various Ivy League schools. A pattern emerges among the con man's scheme and his targets all knowing one another—hence, the “six degrees” that binds them and, at the same time, points out the separation in their lives.

Under the solid, well-paced direction of Jim Farrell, the 15-member cast succeeds, for the most part, in creating entertainment that is part real and part fiction, keeping the audience engaged over the 90-minute-plus production (no intermission).

What—or better said, who—is real in this rarefied stratosphere of pulling off million-dollar art deals, name-dropping and constantly rushing to look better to people who really don't matter or don't care? Guare's strong story line and clever dialogue keep the actors on their toes, helping them overcome some opening jitters of rushed, dropped lines.

Sherrick Robinson took a while to find his footing as the con man, “Paul Poitier,” but once he did he showed how this imposter created core truths his too-eager-to-impress hosts carefully avoided in their lives. Donna Daniels excels as Ouisa, the wealthy matron who displays maturation by show's end, seeing how the imposter has actually helped her to see herself for who she is. Other standouts include the young naive couple from Utah, Elizabeth (Ruth Arnell) and Rick (Nate Press), whose encounter with the con man brings about unexpected tragedy. Joan End is simply “too perfect” as the stereotypical woman of means.

Six Degrees of Separation
challenges our view of what is “real” and what is an “illusion.” It all depends on what we want to believe, especially when it comes to how we live our lives.

Six Degrees of Separation
runs through June 10 at Sunset Playhouse. For more information, call 262-782-4430 or visit www.sunsetplayhouse.com.