Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
Six Degrees of Separation
Miami is a hotbed of fresh, flamboyant, and darker stage plays. Based in Miami, Edge Theatre's mission is to find new playwrights and to present neglected works of established playwrights. Six Degrees of Separation is under the umbrella of this mission statement. John Guare's 17-character play is probably the most ambitious project to date for founder Jim Tommaney to handle, but the end result leaves something to be desired.
Edge has in the past used a small space next to a restaurant in the Miami Design District. Because Six Degrees boasts a bigger ensemble than usual, Tommaney moved into a warehouse space with a higher ceiling in the same area to complement the piece. In keeping tradition with the play, the warehouse is also an art gallery that shows off abstract and surreal material.
Welcome to the home of Flan and Ouisa Kittredge (Ivan Saltz, Liz Dennis). They are a well-to-do couple. Flan is a private art dealer who sells paintings for other people, while his wife helps him along by schmoozing the next person who is interested in brokering a deal between Flan and a potential client. This happens to be the case with a long time friend from South Africa named Geoffrey (Gene Bunge).
Flan and Ouisa seldom break the fourth wall to weave a tale about a young African American named Paul (Gamal J. Palmer), who stumbles in after being stabbed by a mugger who took his thesis statement. After cleaning him up and nurturing his wounds, The Kittredges are amazed by Paul's intellect. What gets them to like him even more is Paul claiming to be the son of actor Sidney Poitier. Paul goes even further by telling Ouisa, Flan, and Geoffrey that he could put them in his father's next movie as extras. From that moment on, the Kittredges take a liking to Paul, not knowing his hidden agenda. After finding Paul in bed with another man, Flan and Ouisa realize Paul is nothing but a rip-off artist and they eject him from their home.
When another couple of friends (Joanne Paciello, Christopher Vicchiollo) tell a similar story of how Sidney Poitier's son is going to cast them in a movie, Flan and Ouisa decide to investigate Paul's trickery by connecting the dots to his con games. Even their daughter (Laurie Costanza) gets in on the case by grilling one of Paul's former acquaintances. While Ouisa tracks down Paul, Paul's scheming catches up to him, and he realizes he must turn to the people that he set up in the first place, not knowing this will be his downfall.
Guare has crafted a very skillful piece of literature that creates one person's journey of trying to fit in. It is said that everything is connected through six degrees, and Paul's cons connect very nicely, but unfortunately, the lie can only go on for so long until consequences will have to be suffered - a price to pay for trying to be someone else.
As Ouisa, Liz Dennis's body language conveys a person who wants to be seen as well as heard. She narrates the story very well without being showy. Ivan Saltz's portrayal of Flan, as the oblivious husband, is never over the top, but could be improved by being more serious in his convictions. As for Paul, Gamal Palmer exudes charm, grace, and finesse in the beginning, but when Paul's lies begin to unravel, Palmer never conveys his character's guilt. He never shows any more emotion than what is given to him.
For a 90-minute play with no intermission, the pace is slow. It seems as if director Tommaney has his players making their own choices with staging and character development, which is not necessarily a good thing. The rest of the ensemble is lukewarm at best, being caricatures instead of characters, especially when a couple of members play multiple roles. It also doesn't help when the director is a one-man crew building a dismal, bland set with amateurish paneling and harsh desktop lamps for lighting.
Tommaney wrote in the program that small-budgeted theatres are an endangered species and that nine other companies have stopped operations since Edge opened in 1995. Most programming in Miami that presents darker, compelling fare like Six Degrees on a bare bones budget attracts the younger demographic that theatres desperately seek. If one can get past the garish scenic design and sloppy lighting to see good drama, then Six Degrees will hopefully be enticing enough for someone to help Tommaney lighten his load a bit. He can be contacted at (954) 733-8735 to offer to assist in ways other than attendance.
Meanwhile, Six Degrees plays through February 21st at Edge Theatre, 3627 NE 1 Ct in Miami's Design District. For reservations and information, please call (305) 531-6083.
EDGE THEATRE - Six Degrees of Separation
Cast: Liz Dennis, Ivan Saltz, Gene Bunge, Gamal J. Palmer, Ruben Angel Pinon, Joanne Paciello, Christopher Vicchiollo, Carlos Guerrero, Laurie Costanza, Michael Gavino, Leonard Krys, Hiram Diaz, Dan Cruz, and Barbara DeVarona
-- Kevin Johnson