been | six degrees of separation

MiNDFOOD SEASON of Six degrees of separation by John Guare, presented by Auckland Theatre Company, exposes the vacuous culture of glitz and greed that so clearly defined the ‘80s. “A story based on real life events depicts the lives of suave, sophisticated and wealthy Manhattan art dealers Flan and Ouisa Kittredge. The Kittredges are all about keeping up appearances but their world of comfort and respectability is turned upside down with the sudden arrival of a charming stranger.”

In Six Degrees of Separation, characters from various backgrounds are thrown together in unexpected situations, and we watch them as they endear themselves to each other, enrage each other, and unravel ultimately to a point of self examination brought on by the charming stranger/con artist.

The result is both humanizing and condemning, leaving us to ponder on what we value, who we care about, and why. Exploring existential ideas, the play delves into a purposeless society with friendships driven by agenda, loneliness and Sisyphean task painted by the never-ending cycle of making enough to sustain their carefully constructed world of privilege.

Notably, the title “Six degrees of separation” plays only a small part in the play, and the theme of inter-connectivity between all people falls in behind more dominant themes of class and race.

Jennifer Ward-Lealand plays Ouisa Kittredge with a commanding stage presence, her nuanced portrayal of a Manhattan socialite with confused sense of self, pretentious and greedy on one side to someone with an inner need for authenticity and meaningful relationships is near perfection.

Andrew Grainger’s Flan Kittredge, is Ouisa’s supportive husband desperately trying to ensure their place in Manhattan society. We feel a tinge of pity for him at the start however as the plot unravels, with his character clinging on to his false persona and his refusal to self examine becomes unnerving to watch. 

Tane Williams-Accra plays Paul the charming stranger posing as a friend of Kittredge’s children, his somewhat awkward beginning is promptly overshadowed by his natural charisma that endears him to his unlikely hosts. He enthrals his unwitting ‘targets’ and the audience alike with his thoughtful ideologies on art, literature, philosophy; a stark contrast to the insecure, bratty and over privileged children of Kittredge as we witness later on in the play.  

One of the key symbols explored in Six Degrees of Separation is a double-sided painting, that Flan Kittredge describes as “one side geometric and sombre. The other side is wild and vivid and adds “We flip it around for variety”  The painting is attributed to Wasily Kandinsky, a celebrated artist whose career spanned the turn of the last century. Ouisa Kittredge explains the nature of the painting and how it is symbolic of the chaotic side of the painting’s dualism. She says: “Chaos, control. Chaos, control. You like, you like?” Making this the question that explains the dual role of the play in its relationship to the art. Though it is about the wealthy and their world it is quite apparent that the notion of chaos and control are very cleverly placed in the art symbolism.

Kandinsky painting holds a place in this production as an example of the dual nature of the play and it’s plot. On one side is the security of the wealthy New York family, while on the other side is the character Paul who is from the streets and possesses an extraordinary intelligence, that is used to con the people that he involves himself with. 

 

Overall a highly entertaining, thought provoking and relevant production. Six Degrees of Separation is showing until 30th August at ASB Waterfront Theatre..