The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts March 10, 2006

Six Degrees of Satisfaction
Actors Shine in Play of Human Limitations
Living the High Life: Senior Hannah Rechtschaffen as Ouisa, a rich socialite who begins to question her values.

If you get a chance to see Six Degrees of Separation, please do. The play, written by John Guare and directed by senior Brian Hogan, is about people who think they have everything they want and what happens when they encounter someone who wants everything they have.

Flan, played by senior James Keary, and Ouisa, played by senior Hannah Rechtschaffen, are of this first type of person. They’re rich, New York socialites — Flan is an art dealer — with two kids at Harvard and multi-millionaire friends from South Africa.

The character Paul, played by senior Diona Reasonover is that second type of person. Young, black and hungry for happiness, he would go to extraordinary lengths to get what he wants. When Paul meets Flan and Ouisa, he knows what he wants. More than everything they have, he wants to become everything that they are.

What Six Degrees demonstrates is that there is nothing like the praise and admiration of another to bring out the litany of flaws and failures we have spent so much time ignoring.

Once Flan and Ouisa are aware of just how much Paul idolizes their way of life, they begin to question just how wonderful that way of life really is. “Not very wonderful,” “empty,” shallow” and “downright awful” are the products of their newfound self-awareness.

Of all the characters, Paul proves to be the most complex and pragmatic. He is simultaneously charming, dangerous, vulnerable, frightening and piteous. Reasonover faces further obstacles in that she is a woman playing a man, but she pulls off the transformation seamlessly. Her Paul is not only believable as a man, but also as one who swings wildly between personas — one minute, the son of Sydney Poitier, the next, a prowling, highly sexualized con artist.

Reasonover never lets Paul get away from her. Her characterization remains consistent throughout, even if Paul does not.

Keary and Rechtschaffen also do a fine job of capturing the affluent soullessness of Flan and Ouisa’s sheltered existence. Keary is an energetic ball of neuroses greased with snake oil and Rechtschaffen, the epitome of hollow grace.

The pair shows great finesse in handling their characters’ respective journeys. As the plot develops and we watch Flan and Ouisa drift further apart, their interactions become some of the most engrossing scenes in the play.

In general, this production has the advantage of casting fantastic actors in numerous supporting roles. Of these, senior Avery Monsen especially stands out. Despite having one of the smallest roles in the show and repetitive lines, Monsen delivers maybe the biggest laugh in the show.

The show itself is exceedingly self-aware. Characters often break from the scene to address the audience and Flan goes so far as to fear libel suits if he mentions specific names. Within that context, Hogan’s surrealist take on the show works well.

Stagehands stand by to deliver props to the actors or serve as doors, shelves, etc. The opening set dressing, in fact, is done under full lights in a timed, choreographed march to music; it sets the proper mood for a show about the gray areas between reality, fantasy and artificiality.

The scene change music — a persistent synth pop — further helps highlight the shallow frivolity of the world in which the play inhabits. In mimicking the double-sided paintings of Kandinsky, sophomore Mike McGee’s colorful, complex light design reiterates Six Degrees’ central mantra: There are two sides to every story.

Lastly, there is some rather blunt full frontal male nudity, but it is completely effective and not at all extraneous. It illustrates for the audience exactly the kind of shock and outrage that Flan and Ouisa are feeling at that moment.

And hey, they got someone fit and attractive to do it. No complaints here.

Six Degrees of Separation plays Fri.-Sun. at 8 p.m. in Little Theater. Tickets are $3 in advance, $5 at the door.


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