Sunday, September 16, 2007

Six Degrees Of Separation

photo: Jennifer Maufrais

It takes a couple of scenes for the ensemble to move at the needed clip (this is a play that hits the ground running) but once they do this smartly-staged off-off revival of John Guare's best-known play (at the Gallery Players, in Brooklyn) is absorbing and effective, approaching the expert balance of bite and wit that I remember from the original production. The compelling story - which begins as a college-aged black man ingratiates himself with a white upper class Manhattan art dealer and his wife by claiming to be the son of Sidney Poitier - was inspired by Times-reported events of moneyed New Yorkers who were fooled by just such a con man. Guare's perceptive and compassionate play is both briskly entertaining and thematically rich, manipulating the story to riff on our connectedness to and our assumptions about each other. The two most important characters are Ouisa, the art dealer's wife, and Paul, the con man. Here, Richard Prioleau convincingly plays both sides of Paul - confident in the early scenes, desperate in the later ones; apart from the minor complaint that he needs more intensity for the Catcher In The Rye monologue, it's a solid performance. As Ouisa, Laura Heidinger is substantial and affecting, especially for the eleventh-hour "it was an experience" speech. The only let-down in the ensemble is that the three boys in the quartet of college kids aren't yet getting laughs out of their lines; I bet they will get there. Radiant standout supporting performance: Jacqueline van Biene, in the minor role of Elizabeth. After this and her performance in You Can't Take It With You a few months back at T. Schreiber, she's high on my To Watch For list.

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