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‘Six Degrees’ Revival a Worthy Production

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

South Coast Repertory is providing an unexpectedly valuable service, as well as a provocative entertainment, by mounting John Guare’s ‘Six Degrees of Separation.’

Its value is unexpected because the well-received 1993 movie version is easily available on video. Wouldn’t a stage revival be superfluous right now?

David Emmes’ staging is a reminder that the play is as scintillating as the movie--but they’re not identical. The ending of the stage version is superior. Furthermore, the area premiere of the play in 1992 at the Doolittle Theatre was flawed. So here’s a chance--at last--to see a worthy, professional production of the original play.

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Guare’s yarn is irresistible. While Manhattan art broker Flan (Richard Doyle) and his wife Ouisa (Marnie Mosiman) entertain a well-heeled investor (John-David Keller) at home one evening, the college-age Paul (Darryl Theirse) bursts in, saying he knows the couple’s kids at Harvard, he was just mugged in Central Park, and he needs help. After they apply first aid, he tells them his father is Sidney Poitier.

Bamboozled, Flan and Ouisa invite Paul to spend the night in their son’s room. But the next morning they discover him in bed with a naked street hustler.

The story then takes off in a manner aptly compared to a Manhattan taxi ride by John Glore in his South Coast program notes (those notes are another advantage of the play over the movie).

In the movie, the story is told in a series of social gatherings, interrupted by flashbacks. In the play, befitting the theater’s interactive quality, the audience is the group to whom Ouisa and Flan tell their story. While the stage lacks the film’s many Manhattan locations, it better exercises the imagination--one of the main topics of the script. And, oddly enough, the ‘opening up’ of the movie imparted a greater sense of artifice on the closing scenes than you get in the play. Exactly what’s going on in the final scene is much clearer here.

Ouisa is the pivotal role. The play charts her journey of self-discovery. The most criticized feature of the Doolittle production was Marlo Thomas’ Ouisa, but Mosiman’s performance at South Coast is much better. Although she bobbled a couple of lines on Saturday night, Mosiman has captured Ouisa’s sense of stylish fun at the beginning of her journey and her shaken sense of self at the end.

Theirse’s Paul looks more like Poitier than did the movie’s Will Smith and does a nifty Poitier imitation in one dream scene--not that this resemblance is essential. But Theirse also switches fluently between the many faces of Paul, holds the theater spellbound during his story about his thesis, and achieves a keen sense of pathos as the story concludes.

The rest of the cast is on target, with the encounters between the Manhattan elite and their Ivy League kids creating especially pungent comedy. Ralph Funicello’s set is inspired by the modern art that Flan buys and sells.

* ‘Six Degrees of Separation,’ South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Ends Nov. 19. $28-$41. (714) 957-4033. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.


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