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Tuesday, 11 June 2013 03:20

Feeling the distance in ‘Six Degrees of Separation’

Written by Tina Farmer
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The Details

(l to r, top) Michael Monsey, Gerry Love, Sarajane Alverson, Kay Love, and Christopher R. Brenner (l to r, bottom) Zach Wachter, Shannon Walton, Richard Stewart, and Joseph Corey Henke
(l to r, top) Michael Monsey, Gerry Love, Sarajane Alverson, Kay Love, and Christopher R. Brenner (l to r, bottom) Zach Wachter, Shannon Walton, Richard Stewart, and Joseph Corey Henke straydogtheatre.org / John Lamb

The late 20th century idea that everyone on earth is connected to everyone else through six people has fascinated the public since its introduction, to the point of inspiring a pop culture meme. Stray Dog Theatre's current production largely succeeds in presenting this idea. The staging and direction puts the emphasis clearly on the idea of separation, which at times creates uncomfortable distances across the small stage and minimizes a sense of connection between the actors and the story.

The ambitious script by John Guare mixes the story with a lot, a whole lot, of art, class and social theory. There are long monologue sections overstuffed with details and facts that can make an audience member feel more like they're attending a lecture than watching a production. Unfortunately, some of director Gary F. Bell's choices only serve to emphasize this feeling of being lectured to, rather than performed for, and the show isn't as engaging or powerful as it could be.

The most glaring of these choices was the director's decision to have so much of the show played to the audience, rather than allowing the actors to play off each other. In all fairness to director Bell, this choice worked quite well in scenes in which the parents were conversing with their children. The lack of eye contact and forced distance achieved here served to highlight generational gaps and misunderstandings. Additionally, it allowed the children to play the part of the voice of reason, chiding their parents for an inability to see the scam to which they succumbed. When employed in other scenes, however, this staging seemed to inhibit rather than free the actors.

There were a number of really nice moments throughout the play, and overall the production drew me in and entertained. The concept of separation is well developed, and the cast do their best to keep the show moving, while the relatively sparse set, risers and suspended picture frames, including the replica Kandinsky painting, eliminate the need for set changes. Performed without intermission, the play flowed nicely from scene to scene, and a number of scenes stood out as particularly strong.

Sarajane Alverson's Ouisa Kittredge and Greg Fenner's Paul create a tangible bond in their scenes together. Her longing for the warmth of a loving relationship is quickly recognized and amplified by Paul's need to belong. Alverson's Kittredge also brought biting humor and a sense of desperate entitlement to her character, while Fenner revealed Paul more slowly, at times smooth and other times overeager.

The initial conversation between Alverson, Fenner, Gerry Love's Flanders Kittredge and Robert Ashton's Geoffrey was quite effective, and the historical information included in this scene flowed naturally, as part of a conversation. Evan Fornachon's Trent also stands out, his need to be accepted is painfully clear, which makes it all the easier for Paul to manipulate him. I only wish the show had included more scenes like these, where we can see the actors connect and respond both physically and through their words.

An enjoyable evening of theater that may spark interesting conversation, "Six Degrees of Separation" runs through June 22nd at Stray Dog Theatre in the Tower Grove Abbey, for more information, visit www.StrayDogTheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

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