note: entire contents copyright 1996 by Larry Stark
Written by John Guare Directed by Arthur O'Malley Trent.....................Tim Babcock Paul...................Winthrop Booth Ouisa......................Anne Damon Flan........................Jeff Gill Ben.......................Jeff Graham Tess......................Jane Grogan Detective.............Bill Harrington Kitty.....................Marcia Keen Elizabeth..............Nicole Lalonde Larkin..................Robert Maibor Doug.....................Seth Maislin Woody.............John Kennedy Martin Rick...................Michael Pierce Geoffrey/Dr. Fine.........Tom Scanlon Hustler/Policeman.....Robert Wahlberg Set Design by Monica Bruno Lighting by Brenda Hughes, Jason Sheehan Heidi Hinkel & Emmy Graham Costumes by Laura Nyhagen & Candace Hopkins Sound by Michelle Griffiths Makeup by Joy Aliss Cochran Stage Managers Kate Krug & Laura Miller Produced by Paul O'Shaughnessy for THE FOOTLIGHT CLUB Eliot Hall 7A Eliot Street, JAMAICA PLAIN 1(617)666-0732 Fridays & Saturdays till 5 October
Thank God there is no One Right Way to do a play.
I saw John Guare's SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION in a spiffy professional production at The Colonial some years ago, and many people may have seen it made into a movie, so it seemed odd that The Footlight Club --- who have been doing amateur theatricals in the same building for a hundred and twenty years --- thought it smart to put up a competing production of their own.
I can say nothing about the film except that if Stockard Channing had an intelligent director and the screenwriter had no ego, her Ouisa was probably brilliant.
But I can say that I left the Colonial Theatre after that production thinking "John Guare, like too many playwrights, has written yet another play that really wants to be a movie." All the polish and precision and professionalism and technical expertise seemed, through that evening, to be calling attention to effects that are film's stock-in-trade, and I wondered why Director Jerry Zachs hadn't just bitten the bullet and filmed the damned thing instead.
I thought then the play was about deception, eventually about self-deception.
At The Footlight Club, Director Arthur O'Malley had less of everything, from highly-paid actors to highly-paid technicians, that, at the Colonial, had imitated film so unsuccessfully. As a result his production is a play --- with a screamingly funny text that shows real teeth before the final blackout.
Here the play is about not reality, which film always does better, but about realities, and eventually about self-awareness.
The targets in act one are NEW YORKER Magazine Profile- types, affluently upwardly-mobile people who insist they're not as rich or famous as people think, who admit to each other that they are more rich and powerful than people realize, and who confess to themselves that they lust after more money, power, and notoriety than they know they really deserve. This play displays five of them, plus four of their pampered collegiate children, though only Trent (Tim Babcock) and Ouisa (Anne Damon) are real protagonists.
John Guare made certain no producer could make a dime with this play by filling the stage with seven minor characters, all onstage at once, who must be played as full-rounded stereotypes with only a handful of lines apiece to work with --- and five more that amount to indispensable cameos. Unfortunately, the Footlight program, which lists these interchangeable character- names only in alphabetical order by actor's last name, made it impossible for a critic to give out gold stars. Fortunately, the cast made it unnecessary to fill any stockings with coal, so if I concentrate on the three principal roles here it's because they had much more work to do; everyone in this case took their moment, and in it deserved to be the center of attention. The director had help from everyone in this cast.
Trent and Ouisa are duped by a congenital liar (Wintrop Booth) whose crimes are trivial and who steals, from these pillars of the monied middle-class, mere trash, yet takes from them their good opinion of themselves. They feel it as an obnoxious un-funny prank, their pricked pomposities delve into what must be his ingenious methods and his twisted motives, until their realities and his lies begin to melt into one another and all three at final curtain have lost something forever.
Arthur O'Malley and his cast have obviously worked hard and well on the gradual darkening of that second act. (Things turn when the liar plays his games with people who are UNrich, and finally more than pomposities are hurt.) They have let the funny first act speak for itself, and it does --- though sharper diction, more precise flips from enacting scenes Before the audience to explaining them To that audience, and more of an acid undertone to chic badinage, could heighten the hilarity even more.
In the end this very theatrical production is about Ouisa, who changes, Trent, who doesn't, and Paul, who shreds away his bravura tissue of lies until he is less than naked, and Tim Babcock, Anne Damon and Winthrop Booth, plus a bakers-dozen others and crews adding lighting, sound, costumes and sets, make these people live. They genuinely earn their bravo's and applause.
In my opinion, the Footlight's SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION outdid the Colonial's about two falls out of three. And I don't think I need to see Stockard Channing's movie any time soon, do you?