Nothing is what it seems in Six Degrees of Separation | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Nothing is what it seems in Six Degrees of Separation 

But Donovan Sessions makes Redtwist's production cohere.

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Jan Ellen Graves

John Guare's intricate, rarified 1990 play, about a clutch of white New York elites whose lives are upended when Paul, a charismatic young African-American man falsely claiming to be Sidney Poitier's son, ingratiates himself into their lives, seems to go in all directions at once, swirling and spinning from high farce to biting satire to wrenching tragedy in just over 90 minutes. Like Paul, a con man who appears to want little from his "victims" but social acceptance, nothing here is quite what it seems, most of all the comfort and confidence that privilege purports to convey.

As the author notes, the play must "go like the wind." Director Steve Scott's staging goes like a gentle breeze. In Redtwist's cramped confines, superimposition of scenes is impossible, requiring a full reset each time Guare's script veers off in yet another unexpected direction (in the original Lincoln Center production, actors often appeared and disappeared on an upper level as though floating in darkness). And Scott's cast struggles to find a tone pliable enough to encompass the script's stylistic extremes. Everything is clear and cogent and, best of all, intellectually engaging, but it lacks the feverishness that gives the play its hallucinogenic momentum.

The production's ace in the hole is Donovan Sessions, whose meticulous, magnetic, heartbreaking performance as Paul makes most everything around him cohere. When he's onstage, which isn't near often enough, he is pure mesmerizing unfathomability. When he finally confronts the emptiness of his manufactured identity, it's agonizing.   v

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