Six Degrees of Separation (Play)
|Written by||John Guare|
|Place premiered||Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater
New York City
|Setting||New York City|
Six Degrees of Separation is a play written by American playwright John Guare that premiered in 1990. The play was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play.
The play explores the existential premise that everyone in the world is connected to everyone else in the world by a chain of no more than six acquaintances, thus, “six degrees of separation”.
A young black man named Paul shows up at the home of art dealer Flan Kittredge and his wife Louisa, known simply as “Ouisa”, who live overlooking Central Park in New York City. Paul has a minor stab wound from an attempted mugging, and says he’s a friend of their children at Harvard University. The Kittredges are trying to sell a painting by Paul Cézanne and now have this wounded stranger in their home. Paul claims he is in New York to meet his father, who is directing a film version of the Broadway musical Cats. Paul continues to charm them with his story, though, in reality, it is all a lie: Paul is not a Harvard student but obtained details on the Kittredges from another male student he had seduced. Eventually Paul uses their home for an encounter with a hustler, but is caught red-handed. The police are called, but Paul escapes.
Soon after, Paul starts up another con against a sensitive young man named Rick and his live-in girlfriend, Elizabeth. The young couple are new to the big city and, based on Paul’s con, invite him to live with them until he gets everything sorted out with his wealthy father—who Paul tells them is Flan Kittredge. The trio become good friends, with Paul spinning a tale of being estranged from his racist father; the girlfriend tells Rick not to lend Paul any money. One night Paul takes Rick out on the town, and seduces him in order to get the money. Later that night, Rick tells Elizabeth that Paul is gone, that he has all their money, and that he and Paul had sex. In a fit of fury, she cruelly suggests that Rick’s father had always questioned his son’s sexuality. Soon afterwards Rick commits suicide.
In desperation, Paul calls the Kittredges for assistance. Partly due to strained relations with her children, Ouisa finds herself feeling emotionally attached to Paul, hoping to be able to help him in some way despite the fact that he has victimized them. Over a protracted and laborious phone call, he agrees to give himself up to the police; however, during the arrest, he and the couple are separated. Despite their efforts—Ouisa’s more than Flan’s—his fate is unresolved, except for a possibly tragic end. Towards the end of the play, in a climactic moment of reflection, she delivers the play’s most famous monologue:
|“||I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation. Between us and everybody else on this planet. The president of the United States. A gondolier in Venice. fill in the names. I find that A) tremendously comforting that we’re so close and B) like Chinese water torture that we’re so close. Because you have to find the right six people to make the connection. It’s not just big names. It’s anyone. A native in a rain forest. A Tierra del Fuegan. An Eskimo. I am bound to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people. It’s a profound thought. How Paul found us. How to find the man whose son he pretends to be. Or perhaps is his son, although I doubt it. How every person is a new door, opening up into other worlds. Six degrees of separation between me and everyone else on this planet. But to find the right six people.||”|
|Character||1990 Off-Broadway cast||1990 Broadway cast||1992 West End cast||1993 Film cast||1st National Tour cast||2017 Broadway revival cast|
|Ouisa Kittredge||Stockard Channing||Marlo Thomas||Allison Janney|
|Flan Kittredge||John Cunningham||Paul Shelley||Donald Sutherland||John Cunningham||John Benjamin Hickey|
|Paul||James McDaniel||Courtney B. Vance||Adrian Lester||Will Smith||Ntare Mwine||Corey Hawkins|
Kristin Griffith and Swoosie Kurtz read the role of Ouisa Kittredge in workshops in 1989 before Stockard Channing was cast. Channing was originally unavailable and was committed to coming to Broadway in another play, Neil Simon’s Jake’s Women. The play’s Broadway run was canceled. Channing had starred previously in John Guare’s The House of Blue Leaves, and he offered her the role for the official Off-Broadway run. Kurtz later replaced Channing during the Broadway run.
The play premiered Off-Broadway at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, Lincoln Center, on May 16, 1990. Stockard Channing won an Obie Award for Best Actress for her performance. Guare won an Obie Award for his script.
The production transferred to the Vivian Beaumont Theater for its Broadway debut on November 8, 1990. The production closed on January 5, 1992 after 485 performances, directed by Jerry Zaks.Kelly Bishop played the role of Ouisa as a replacement on Broadway, and Laura Linney made her Broadway debut as a replacement for the role of Tess. The original Broadway production was nominated for four Tony Awards, winning for Best Direction for Zaks. A US. National tour was launched in 1992.Veronica Hamel also played Ouisa in the first production in Chicago.
The play made its UK debut in 1991 at the Royal Court Theatre and then transferred to the West End’s Comedy Theatre. In 2010, the play was revived at the Old Vic theatre in London starring Lesley Manville as Ouisa.
A 1995 production at Canadian Stage in Toronto, Ontario starred Fiona Reid as Ouisa, Jim Mezon as Flan and Nigel Shawn Williams as Paul. Both Williams and Reid won Dora Mavor Moore Awards for their performances, Williams as Outstanding Performance by a Male in a Principal Role – Play and Reid as Outstanding Performance by a Female in a Principal Role – Play.
In May 2004 Michael Buffong directed a production at the Royal Exchange, Manchester with Lisa Eichhorn as Ouissa Kittredge, Phillip Bretherton as Flanders Kittredge and O-T Fagbenle as Paul. O-T Fabenle won a MEN Award for his performance.
The play will be revived on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in a limited engagement opening on April 5, 2017, starring Allison Janney, John Benjamin Hickey and Corey Hawkins, with direction by Trip Cullman.
The play was inspired by the real-life story of David Hampton, a con man and robber who managed to convince a number of people in the 1980s that he was the son of actor Sidney Poitier. The writer John Guare was a friend of Inger McCabe Elliott and her husband Osborn Elliott. In October 1983 Hampton came to the Elliott’s New York apartment and they allowed him to spend the night. The next morning Inger Elliott found Hampton in bed with another man and later called the police. The Elliotts told Guare about the story and it inspired him to write the play years later.
After the play became a dramatic and financial success, Hampton was tried and acquitted for harassment of Guare; he felt he was due a share of the profits that he ultimately never received.
A strong influence on the play is the novel The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. There are some very overt references to it, as when the protagonist explains the thesis paper he has just written on The Catcher in The Rye to the family who takes him in for the night. There are also more subtle allusions made both in the script and in the cinematography of the film version, such as when various characters begin to take on Holden Caulfield-esque characteristics and attitudes.
Broadway Runs and Tour
Nov 8, 1990 – Jan 5, 1992 – Play, Original – Vivian Beaumont Theatre, NYC
Apr 25, 2017 – Jun 18, 2017 – Play, Revival – Ethel Barrymore Theatre, NYC
Oct 15, 1992 – May 16, 1993 – USA National Tour
Guare adapted the play for a film released in 1993 directed by Fred Schepisi. Channing was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the film.
Awards and Nominations
- 1991 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Best Play
- 1991 Tony Award Direction of a Play (Zaks)
- 1991 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Director of a Play (Zaks)
- 1993 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play
- 1991 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play
- 1991 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress in a Play (Channing)
- 1991 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
- 1991 Tony Award for Best Play
- 1991 Tony Award Actor in a Play (Vance)
- 1991 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play (Channing)
- 1993 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress (Channing)
Stockard Channing – Ouisa
John Cunningham – Flan
Courtney B. Vance – Paul
Kelly Bishop – Kitty
David Eigenberg – Hustler
Brian Evers – Detective
Evan Handler – Doug
Philip LeStrange – Policeman / Eddie
Peter Maloney – Larkin
Robert Duncan McNeill – Rick
John Cameron Mitchell – Trent
Robin Morse – Tess
Mari Nelson – Elizabeth
Stephen Pearlman – Dr. Fine
Anthony Rapp – Ben
Gus Rogerson – Woody
Sam Stoneburner – Geoffrey
Understudies: Kelly Bishop (Ouisa), Ray Cochran (Ben, Hustler, Trent), Catherine Curtin (Elizabeth, Tess), Brian Evers (Flan, Larkin), Patricia Hodges (Kitty, Ouisa), Philip LeStrange (Larkin), David Little (Dr. Fine, Geoffrey) and Anthony Rapp (Doug, Woody)
Broadway Revival 2015
Corey Hawkins – Paul
John Benjamin Hickey – Flan
Allison Janney – Ouisa
Jim Bracchitta – Policeman
Tony Carlin – Doorman
Michael Countryman – Larkin
James Cusati-Moyer – Broadway Debut – Hustler
Ned Eisenberg – Dr. Fine
Lisa Emery – Kitty
Keenan Jolliff – Broadway Debut – Woody
Peter Mark Kendall – Broadway Debut – Rick
Cody Kostro – Broadway Debut – Doug
Sarah Mezzanotte – Broadway Debut – Elizabeth
Colby Minifie – Tess
Paul O’Brien – Detective
Chris Perfetti – Trent
Ned Riseley – Broadway Debut – Ben
Michael Siberry – Geoffrey
Understudies: Jim Bracchitta (Detective, Doorman, Dr. Fine), Tony Carlin (Flan, Larkin, Policeman), Morgan Everitt (Elizabeth, Tess), Felicity LaFortune (Kitty, Ouisa), Donovan Mitchell (Paul), Paul O’Brien (Dr. Fine, Geoffrey, Policeman), Ned Riseley (Doug, Trent) and Mickey Theis (Ben, Hustler, Rick, Woody)
- “Pulitzer Prize for Drama” pulitzer.org, accessed November 13, 2015
- Jake’s Women canceled accessed 11/23/2016
- Play script notes accessed 11/23/2016
- “‘Six Degrees of Separation’ Broadway” playbillvault.com, accessed November 13, 2015
- Billington, Michael. “Review. ‘Six Degrees of Separation'” The Guardian, 19 January 2010
- “Theatre Notes”. Toronto Star, January 12, 1995.
- “Dora Winners”. Toronto Star, June 27, 1995.
- Paulson, Michael. “Allison Janney to Return to Broadway in ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ Revival”, The New York Times, October 18, 2016
- Clement, Olivia. ” ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ Announces Rush Policy” Playbill, March 29, 2017
- New York Mag The Story of David Hampton accessed 7-27-2015
- Larrt McShane (19 July 2003). “Six Degrees’ Inspiration Hampton Dies”. The Associated Press. Retrieved 2008-08-17.
- Colin L. Ryono (2008). “Six Degrees of Separation”. Colin’s Movie Monologue Page. Retrieved 2008-08-31.
- Guare, John (1990). Six Degrees of Separation: A Play (First ed.). New York: Random House. ISBN 0-679-40161-X.
- Salinger, J. D. (1951). The Catcher in the Rye (First ed.). Boston: Little, Brown. ISBN 0-316-76953-3.
- Wolfe, Graham. (2012). “Doorways and Blank Spaces: Intertextual Connection in John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation.” Intertextual Exchanges in American Drama. Eds. Drew Eisenhauer and Brenda Murphy. Jefferson: McFarland. 217–231.