Six Degrees Of Separation Summary
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John Guare’s play Six Degrees of Separation centers on the premise that everyone is connected to everyone else in just six degrees. Ouisa and Flan Kittredge, an upper-class New York couple,are keen to share the events of the previous evening, when they had invited Geoffrey, their wealthy friend, over for dinner. The point of the dinner was so that Flan could ask Geoffrey for two million dollars. An art dealer, Flan wanted to purchase a Cezanne but did not have the funds.
While they are enjoying drinks, the doorman knocks at the door. With him is a young African-American man who has been beaten. He tells them that he was mugged in Central Park, and introduces himself as a friend of a classmate from Harvard, who knows the Kittredges’ children. He has no money, but plans to meet with his father—Sidney Poitier, an actor—the next day.
Flan and Ouisa clean his wounds and give him a new shirt, along with an invitation to join them for dinner at a restaurant. Paul accepts their invitation to dine with them, but insists on cooking. The night is a success—they love Paul’s food and the Kittredges’ get the money from Geoffrey.They invite Paul to spend the night and give him fifty dollars to hold him over until he can meet his father.
When Ouisa goes to wake Paul the next morning, she finds him with company. Nude company. Despite his attempts to explain, Ouisa calls for Flan, who kicks both Paul and the other man out of their apartment. Ouisa and Flan later meet with Kitty and Larkin, friends of theirs who have also met Paul. He had shown up with the same story—and in the middle of the night, he woke them by crying out, “Burglar!” before chasing a naked man down the hall. Until hearing Flan and Ouisa’s story, Paul was a hero in their eyes. They try—and fail—to reach Sidney Poitier.
The four of them meet with a detective, who initially dismisses them because Paul did not actually steal anything from their apartments. However, he later reveals that another man met Paul and has a similar story. From that man, they find out that Paul is an imposter. The man pretending to be Paul the lover of Trent Conway, who attended the same boarding school as the Kittredges’ children, as well as Larkin and Kitty’s children. The son of the other man who had met “Paul” also attended that school.
Time passes, and Flan and Ouisa hear nothing more of Paul until their doorman spits at Flan. He says, “The Negro son you deny.” Flan and Ouisa learn about Paul’s meeting after he was kicked out of their apartment. Paul had met Rick and Elizabeth in the park. He told them that Flan was his father and refused to acknowledge him because of the color of his skin. Elizabeth and Rick convince Paul to reconcile with Flan. He tells them that Flan will acknowledge him if he can only get to Maine to meet his family. Though Elizabeth disagrees with Rick, he takes out all of their savings and gives it to Paul. The two go to the Rainbow Room, an expensive restaurant in the city, and then take a carriage ride in Central Park. Their evening concludes with a sexual encounter that leaves Rick feeling guilty and upset enough to take his own life. Elizabeth turns to the police, who issue a warrant for Paul.
After Flan has the newspaper print a story about Paul, Paul calls the Kittredge house, and Ouisa convinces him to turn himself in to the police. She promises to visit often while he’s in prison and to help him get back on his feet once he’s released. Paul asks her and Flan to come with him to the police station. They agree, but they also tell the detective where Paul is, and the police arrest him before Ouisa and Flan arrive. The play ends with Ouisa wondering where Paul is, and if he is still alive. She decides that their connection was meaningful after all.
A main theme of Six Degrees of Separation is race and racism. All of the characters, except for Paul, are white.Paul claims that racism did not touch him until he was sixteen years old. He claims he never noticed a difference between himself and anyone else, but by the end of the play, he admits to realizing the racist undertones in the society they all live in.
In 1990, Six Degrees of Separation opened off-Broadway. After a ten-week run, it was extended. Guare is praised for the play’s use of social issues and art to highlight the theme of the play.
A two-sided painting by Wassily Kandinsky revolves over the stage, alternating between wild color and somber geometry. The painting provides the focus of an expensive Manhattan apartment near Central Park. The owners, Ouisa and Flan Kittredge, enter in nightclothes and speak directly to the audience, agitated over a recent traumatic incident. As they describe the previous evening, they begin to reenact it.
Flan and Ouisa are taking a wealthy South African friend, Geoffrey, out to dinner. Flan, an art dealer, hopes to persuade Geoffrey to invest two million dollars in an upcoming deal to purchase a painting by Paul Cézanne. The friends’ banter over drinks is interrupted by the sudden arrival of a handsome young black man, Paul, who is bleeding and says he has been mugged. He describes himself as a college friend of the Kittredge children, Tess and Woody, who told him their parents were kind. Flattered, Ouisa and Flan offer first-aid and enjoy their conversation with the personable, articulate young man.
Paul eventually reveals that he is the son of the movie star Sidney Poitier, who is coming to New York the next day to cast the movie version of the musical Cats (pr. 1981). Ouisa, Flan, and Geoffrey are dazzled as Paul prepares a wonderful meal in the Kittredge kitchen and describes his thesis on J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951). The Kittredges insist that Paul stay with them that night. Geoffrey quietly promises that he will invest in the upcoming deal. Ouisa and Flan celebrate their success and dream about art.
Early the next morning, Ouisa goes to wake Paul and discovers him in bed with a naked hustler, who menaces Ouisa and Flan before leaving. Distraught, they throw Paul out of the apartment and reenact the play’s first scene, again articulating their distress.
A few days later, their friends Kitty and Larkin tell Ouisa and Flan a similar story of meeting the son of Sidney Poitier. All are appalled that they have been conned. A police detective shows no interest in the case, so the two couples investigate on their own. A third dupe emerges: A Dr. Fine treated Paul for a knife wound and then gave him the keys to his brownstone before discovering the...
(The entire section is 916 words.)