The small, blackbox style stage at the Babylon Citizens Council on the Arts theatre venue is almost entirely barren during Modern Classics Theatre Company of Long Island’s production of Six Degrees of Separation. The only exception is a loveseat center stage and a colorful modern painting affixed to one of two black barriers on each side of the stage. Despite the lack of furniture, the theatre is bursting with life throughout the magnetic production.
The theatre group’s second show in its second season boasts a cast of 15 seasoned actors – all pouring high voltage energy into each performance. The sharp direction of Matt Rosenberg keeps the ensemble and the audience on their toes throughout.
The rapid pace is inherent in John Guare’s 1990 play, now a period piece that has more to say than ever almost 30 years later. At the center of the story are Upper East Siders Flan, an art dealer, and Ouisa Kittredge, played expertly by Angelo DiBiase and Jill Linden. Entering in hysterics and donning bathrobes, the couple eventually gain enough composure to explain what brought them to such a state.
From there, we’re brought back to the night before as the couple entertains a South African friend, Dean Seaforth with a profoundly accurate accent, in their Fifth Avenue apartment. A knock at the door changes their plans for a night out, however, with the arrival of a young man named Paul (Shiloh Bennett) sustaining a knife wound from a mugging in Central Park. Claiming to be a friend of their children, Paul explains he was robbed of all his possessions and was left with nowhere to go. Equipped with a plethora of information about both the Kittredges and their children, Paul is welcomed and cared for. Eventually he reveals himself to be the apparent son of Sidney Poitier, who he explains was flying into New York to meet him in the morning.
Mr. Bennett gives a breathtaking performance as Paul, leaving the Kittredges and the audience hanging on his every word. He especially dazzles with a monologue delving into the cultural relevance of The Catcher in the Rye, the topic of the thesis paper that was also stolen during the mugging. His presence is simply hypnotic. Star-struck and warmed by the nice things their children allegedly told Paul about them, the couple’s guard is down to the extent Paul is sleeping in their home by the end of the night. However, in the morning they stumble upon him and a second guest – a male hustler. The context of the show’s opening then becomes clear as the events come full circle in a great exercise of farce.
However, that night would only be their first encounter with Paul, who they come to find also paid a similar visit to other members of their social circle. The comedy is unrelenting as we see these rich, liberal New Yorkers scramble in the face of their star-struck ignorance and susceptibility to flattery. The events especially provoke introspection in Ouisa, who begins to question what people truly know about their children or themselves. She is left wondering if her life is just made of elusive connections – the titular six degrees of separation. All the more fascinating is the fact that Mr. Guare found inspiration from a real account of a conman who targeted the Upper East Side in 1983.
In 2019, with the myth of a post-racial America thoroughly debunked and the wealthy 1 percent still reigning from their own Fifth Avenue apartments , the play is painfully relevant. No matter how you align politically, this rarely produced, clever play remains must-see theatre and Modern Classics’ cast of stand-out performers and production team does it justice.
Check out Modern Classics Theatre Company of Long Island’s Facebook event for tickets and additional information.