No one ever likes being duped, especially when the ploy comes from someone you opened your home and life to. But, what if that guy charmed his way into your life and taps into your own desires for a relationship, is it any easier to accept?
Based off the real-life events of David Hampton, a con man who tricked wealthy New Yorkers into believing he was the son of Sidney Poitier, John Guare’s play explores more than just the situation. At its heart is an in-depth look at the idea that we all separated by six people and the implications that has on our own personal relationships.
Playing at Actor’s Express, Six Degrees of Separation boasts a large and talented cast under the skilled direction of Freddie Ashely. The cast includes well-known Atlanta veterans, such as Mary Lynn Owen, James Donadio and Doyle Reynolds, amongst a few making their Atlanta debuts.
Ouisa (Owen) and Flan (Donadio) tell the story of their encounter with the young man who calls himself Paul Poitier (Jason-Jamal Ligon), Sidney Poitier’s son. Paul tells them he has been mugged and has sought them for help because he mentions he is a friend of their children. He convinces them to give him a place to stay since his father will be in the city the next morning to audition actors for a film version of Cats. Feeling compassion for his predicament and hoping for roles in the film, they give him a room and money, which he uses to host a hustler, much to the couple’s chagrin.
The couple soon learn of others who were also Paul’s victims: another couple (Lane Carlock and Larry Davis) and a doctor (Charles Green). Together the group begins to attempt to unravel the mystery. It is at this point where each victim’s vulnerability that Paul has exploited becomes apparent: they have broken and distant relationships with their children. He has in a way become a surrogate son, making it especially hard for Ouisa to treat him as the criminal he is.
Owen gives a performance not to be missed, and it is clearly one that outshines the others on stage, not that her costars are any less talented. Donadio and Ligon, however, are less memorable and lack the punch that makes Owen stand out. Donadio, while convincing as the shrewd art dealer, stays in her shadow, and even though much of that is the script, he doesn’t match her intensity in their interactions, particularly in the final scene.
Ligon captures the charm and warmth of Paul, but he doesn’t quite sell the fact he is being dishonest and lacks the passion that the character should have. His characterization relies on the softer side of the personality, but it is at the loss of the conniving side, which does make a brief appearance in a scene where he seduces a young man who divulges all the information he needs on these families.
Six Degrees of Separation at Actor’s Express continues the theater’s tradition of continually outdoing itself. Some aspects may seem dated in today’s wired world, but it doesn’t detract from the engaging storytelling. It plays through February 9, 2014. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website. The show’s runtime is 90 minutes without an intermission.
– Kenny Norton