Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Six Degrees Of Separation

Duality's the name of the game in Six Degrees. It's an obvious thematic thread -- the double-sided Kandinsky, the two (plus) faces of Paul -- the whole show revolves around people putting on airs. To mount this show successfully requires an almost two-faced approach: a Side A/Side B contrast that doesn't exist to comment on itself, but to provide the piece with a commonality to Paul, a link between us and him. Because Paul does not succeed at being a con man -- he gets very little money and spends it almost instantly, he returns to the same 'victims' repeatedly, he hasn't much desire to actually get away with anything. No, Paul is only a con man by definition. What he (and the same went for his real life counterpart) succeeds at so well is being an intrigue, which is his bottom line goal. To be among people who put stars in your eyes and to have them all wanting to look only at you -- if that's not a cornerstone of the American Dream, I don't know what is. Paul's seemingly unorthodox method is to put on a different persona to wow whoever needs wowing. This, of course, is actually quite standard issue, a literalization of the palm greasing we each do on a daily basis. And the strongest way to open this direct line to the audience to me seems to be an equally multi-fac(et)ed experience -- a show that provides multiple things for multiple people, if at the expense of a core One Truth to stand on.

There are any number of ways this multiplicity could be approached, and I think Signal's hooked onto something good in their caged-in dancefloor of a stage in the round. The in the round approach, complemented by a box seats setup, slightly raised stage, and low clearance lighting, places the performers on the defensive, trapped in our sights try to intrigue their own way to acceptance. It's one level of duality -- fourth wall vs. no. When speaking to us, the cast (and particularly Jon Steinhagen and Susie Griffith as the Kittredges) aren't relaying events, they are telling a story: embellishing at points, making jokes -- at times at the expense of the other, a bevy of tactics intended to wow us, the mute and judging witnesses. Build that fourth wall back up and the show becomes Paul's game, a man so far on the defensive that it works all the way back around again to offensive. Or perhaps more fittingly, Paul is playing the game so much more vigorously than anyone else that they don't even recognize it. But we do -- even if we don't see the meta- in our place as the Kittredges of the larger scale.

The other big duality pulled out by director Ronan Marra is the level of intimacy. This particular production feeds on a lifeblood of minimalism. The soft moments -- Eric Lindahl's Trent having true human contact pried from him and then, in rapid succession, denied again; the silence in Steinhagen's eyes after he uncharacteristically lashes out at his wife; most any of the hushed light, pacing animal monologues -- are the theatrical equivalent of hook, line, and sinker. It's the maximal moments that become a little sloppy. Not that they certainly aren't a true counterpoint, but compared to the knife's edge precision of the little moments, the big ones (a three family parent/child powwow; the opening bumrush of snap snap snap exposition) seem to stumble over their own feet a little. Which is unfortunate, because the one moment where they collide -- Aaron Snook's monologue as Rick, which starts without a fourth wall and builds one up brick by desolate brick -- shows just how much power is contained in the match.

And yet, when I look back, the line that truly, truly sticks with me is one that could easily become a throwaway in other hands. After being harangued by his ex-wife by way of his son, Dr. Fine turns to the audience and says, good-natured but with a sense of lost hope, "There are two sides to every story." It's the line I'm most interested in because it's the side I never get to hear. And it's what makes the show (Guare's and Signal's) work -- the most intriguing story is the one you don't know, the one you only know of. In Six Degrees, even the characters we know most about, the ones who try their hardest to explain themselves to us, only explain away the things they think we want to hear. And for us, as it is with Paul for them, the most interesting part is that we may never know the most interesting part.


P.S. the Goodman chick lied to me -- O'Neill Festival tickets are on sale now. But thanks to my obssesive compulsive internet tendencies, I uncovered this info sooner than later. I've got my O'Neill Explorer pass, when are you getting yours? I don't care whether or not you support the Goodman, but let's support the Goodman supporting experimental theatre, eh?


1 comment:

Rob Kozlowski said...

I *want* to get the O'Neill Explorer pass, I do, I do, but I have to find the $124. Otherwise, I'll have to check out only three of the plays. Which ones to pick, of course, is the real hard question.