When Paul first shows up at Flan and Ouisa Kittredge’s posh Central Park apartment, he says that he’s been stabbed, and that the only copy of his Harvard thesis has been stolen. But after Paul charms the couple by claiming to be the son of Sidney Poitier—who Paul claims is planning a live-action adaptation of Cats—the Kittredges forget their discomfort, and insist that this stranger, who seems to know the couple’s children, spend the night recovering in their home.
In Six Degrees of Separation, Kay Leigh Ferguson and Doug Schneider play Flan and Ouisa Kittredge, easy dupes for a charming young con man (Lance Lemon, pictured) claiming to be the son of the Sidney Poitier.
By morning, we get the inkling that Paul is not who he said he was. John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation, which plays at Live Arts through June 12, examines the art of the swindle, which is itself a kind of acting. The story, based on the actual exploits of David Hampton, a con man who managed to infiltrate Guare’s clique of New York art elites, is not really about the mechanics of Paul’s hustle. It’s about being played for a fool.
Performance relies on a mutual agreement to misdirect and to be misdirected. For Paul, played well by a wispy Lance Lemon, the only mode seems to be misdirection. Even after his deception takes the life of a dupe, he doesn’t appear to be remorseful, doesn’t change. He’s not even a very good thief. But he gets under the skin of the Kittredges.
Through Paul, Kay Leigh Ferguson’s Ouisa seems to take a kind of quiet joy in experiencing victimhood. Ferguson gives Ouisa of subtle, matter-of-fact quality that downplays the character’s epiphanies and even her possible attraction to Paul. She plays the flake, only to find that she can stretch out her wings a bit, even be defiant. Unfortunately, the plotting gives Ouisa a somewhat ham-fisted closing; fortunately, Ferguson’s decision to remain on a lower key helps smooth the strangeness of the final scene.
Doug Schneider, known locally as a singer, is one of the best character actors in the area. His Flan lacks transcendence, but it’s hardly a distraction. (The on-stage nudity is, however.) Elsewhere, the bulk of the players are prescribed a scene or two at most, which is a glitch of the scripting. Nonetheless, these thinly-sketched characters are generally given a good go by the cast. I think of Edwina Herring, Alex Davis and Michael Goldstein, who should be given more than a dollop of stage time in future productions.
Six Degrees is fitting material for director Betsy Tucker, who is attracted to multi-layered scripts. (Her Beard of Avon, previously at Live Arts, was not as much about anti-Stratfordianism as it was about gender.) She hurdles the bumpy script with relish. I wondered what this story would have been like had it been penned by David Mamet or Sarah Ruhl or Caryl Churchill, playwrights with a clearer grasp on the notion that chaos and trickery can be redemptive. But even with an elusive and rocky script, Live Arts offers a solid, workhorse production full of compelling performances and ideas.