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Guess who is coming to dinner is always the question at the Kittredge’s, as the wealthy New York family meets their guest Paul. SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION is part of American slang, but was first a smart play based on a New York Times article about a real life con man who swindled wealthy New Yorkers. John Guare’s 1990 Tony Award nominated play was also a Pulitzer Prize nomination for drama. SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION is now on stage at Custom Made Theatre Company through June 18th. Director Stuart Bousel has assembled an excellent 13 member cast to perform this well written gem. It’s a fascinating intriguing topic that also draws from a theory first proposed in 1929 by Hungarian author, Frigyes Kanthy, that everyone in the world can be connected to anyone else by at most six relationships.

Guare’s script was made into a 1993 feature film starring Will Smith, Stockard Channing, Donald Sutherland and Ian McKellen. The play’s deeper message has more to do with the social values and barriers that keep us rich and poor, and in our own race corner and not connecting with others and ourselves. As the young black man enters this wealthy family's life, Paul convinces the New York couple he is connected with them as he knows their names and “He knew our children’s names”. The wonderful Genevieve Perdue, and elegant Matt Weimer, play Ouisa and Flan Kittredge who are told by Paul that he is a classmate of their children at Harvard. He tells them that he’s in town awaiting the arrival of his dad, the famous actor Sidney Poitier, who is directing the film version of Cats. Local favorite Khary Moye is very convincing as the intruder Paul, he brings a sweet charm to the role and anyone would want to invite him to stay. He is an expert in communication and winning over his prey. Paul soon convinces the two that they can have roles as extras in his father's film. Right now, though, Paul is strapped for cash and smoothly persuades the Kittredges to lend him a bit until his famous dad arrives.

They become uncertain they made the right move after a half naked hustler who has slept with Paul runs through the apartment. Their good friends Kitty and Larkin played by the amusing Kelly Rinehart and frantic Brian Levi join them for drinks and boast about the surprising visit they had by a young man who turns out to be Paul. The wide-eyed friends have the perfect comic timing to bring to light the deeper web of lies both couples now have to deal with. Ouisa urges Paul to turn himself into the police with the promise of helping him despite her husband's objections. It gets more complicated as we learn about Ouisa’s strained relations with her own children and now her sympathetic feelings for Paul.

The 20 something kids are played as the perfect millennials by Sam Bertkin, Alisha Ehrlich, Kathleen Mchatton, and handsome Kyle Goldman, who also makes a surprise entrance as the male hustler. Bousel’s accurate direction and upbeat pacing keeps the production moving along as the audience tries to figure out exactly what will happen next on stage. The ensemble cast delivers slick performances led by the talented Moye as con artist, Paul. Moye succeeds in making Paul a sympathetic character, and a fine honed portrayal of an intelligent, charismatic young man who uses his own distraught childhood to bait and catch snooty New York society folks.

Perdue and Weimer make a delightful pair as the snooty Kittredges, who’s need to turn a profit doesn’t prevent them from being conned by a clever likeable stranger. Paul successfully finds a way to Ouisa’s feelings and we can see why. Carl Lucania is splendid as the Kittredge’s pal art dealer Geoffrey, whose racial awareness is more lost than genuine. The large cast also includes the cool Richard Sargent the doctors son, and Kyle McReddie as a dapper detective investigating the families’ curious tale of Paul. Talented Karl Schackne plays Dr. Fine a physician who also is conned by the charming stranger.

The creative team has brought a sleek black and white theme to the look of the show. Ryan Martin’s New York apartment set is a soft decor with swank gray white and black tones with a wonderful dab of color from the double-sided Kandinsky painting hanging center stage. Brooke Jennings’ upscale costumes compliment Martin’s set - and bring the New York Cocktail party look to every scene. The thirteen member cast is onstage for most of the 90 minute romp at times a subtext for a greek chorus. Bousel has the cast wander on stage as the audience takes their seats. We appear to have joined an ongoing art opening mixed with the sold out opening night crowd. Ryan Lee Short’s sound design includes some sharp New York classics to set the tone of the night. William Campbell’s light design is simple, bright and the moody colors bounce off the gray walls. Grisel Torres’ props include sharp modern furniture and gory blood when needed.

Guare’s skillful dark comedy has not lost its punch since its first staging 26 years ago. CMTC’s engaging and at times a hilarious production shows everyone in the world could be connected to everyone else in the world by no more than six acquaintances. Paul refers at one point to “the death of imagination,” but this SIX DEGREES is full of the right mix and it is clear that Paul has profoundly changed all involved. CMTC closes their 17th season in their new home on Sutter street with this smart production, and they return for season 18, in September with Tim Rice’s CHESS.



By John Guare

Directed by Stuart Bousel

Through June 18th

Custom Made Theatre Co

at the Shelton Stage 533 Sutter Street, San Fran

photos by Jay Yamada.

CAST: Sam Bertken, Rick; Alisha Ehrlich, Elizabeth; Kyle Goldman,Woody/Hustler; Brian Levi, Larkin; Carl Lucania, Geoffrey/Policeman; Kathleen McHatton, Tess; Kyle McReddie,Ben/Detective; Khary Moye, Paul; Genevieve Perdue, Ouisa; Kelly Rinehart, Kitty; Richard Sargent, Doug/Trent; Karl Schackne, Dr. Fine; and Matt Weimer, Flan.

CREATIVE TEAM: Brooke Jennings, Costumes; William Campbell, Lighting; Neil Higgins, Assistant Director; Ryan Lee Short, Sound; Ryan Martin, Scenic Design; Grisel Torres, Props; Kitty Torres, Assistant Costumer.

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