The play's called Six Degrees of Separation, but for an Auckland Theatre Company supporter there were no degrees of separation.

Six Degrees of Separation popularised the idea that we're all linked by six, or even fewer, social connections. Written by US playwright John Guare and first performed in 1990, it's now one of ATC's biggest productions for this year.

When ATC patron and former Auckland lawyer Peter Macky saw the play on the 2019 programme, he had a wry chuckle about how true its idea of close connection is. In 1990, he studied for an MA at New York University School of Law and, while living in a college dormitory at the West Side YMCA, met one David Hampton. Macky remembers Hampton as a diffident and distant person who didn't really join in college life and disappeared after a few weeks.

Shortly after, Macky started hearing of a new play about a young man who shows up at the home of wealthy New York art dealers, claiming to be a friend of their children from Harvard University. He plays on the couple's sympathies with a story about having been mugged and unable to contact his wealthy father but all is not what it seems.

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"I loved the play and became a great fan of it," says Macky, who returned to New Zealand in 1991.

Then a friend sent him a newspaper clipping about the stranger-than-fiction story behind Six Degrees of Separation. A young man claiming to be actor Sydney Poitier's son had conned people like film stars Melanie Griffith and Gary Sinise, fashion designer Calvin Klein and several other well-heeled Manhattanites into letting him stay or giving him money.

He'd eventually been convicted of fraud and ordered to pay restitution but was sentenced to prison when he refused to abide by these terms. The young man? The David Hampton Macky knew.

Peter Macky has led restoration of the Kaiserbahnhof railway station near Berlin; its opening means he'll miss Six Degrees of Separation, the play he has a one degree of separation link to.
Peter Macky has led restoration of the Kaiserbahnhof railway station near Berlin; its opening means he'll miss Six Degrees of Separation, the play he has a one degree of separation link to.

"I admit, it was a bit of a thrill to think here I was, a New Zealanders studying in New York, living with a guy who was the subject of a major play," says Macky. "It really did show we're not that far removed from one another …

"I think Hampton was keeping a lower profile when I met him because he thought we might discover who he was but it those days, there was no internet so it was much more difficult to discern fact from fiction in certain circumstances."

Now living half the year in New Zealand and the other half in Germany, Macky won't return for ATC's version next month. He's got a major production of his own to open, having spent the past decade painstakingly restoring an historic train station in Halbe, about 50km south of Berlin in Germany.

The first of a network of private stations – Kaiserbahnhofs – it was built in 1865 for German royalty. Kaiser Wilhelm I, his family, ministers and staff would stop briefly at the station en route to one of his hunting lodges.

Macky found the building while out cycling and when the heritage champion discovered it was for sale, he bought it even though it had been unoccupied since the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, after being converted into apartments for railway workers 77 years earlier.

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The author of the book Coolangatta - a homage, about the Remuera mansion unceremoniously demolished in 2006, he decided to buy and restore the derelict building. Now, he's opening it next month as a base for the Easy Cycling Tours business that he co-owns.

"I've got 120 Kiwis coming for the opening! It's going to be great."

Six Degrees of Separation, starring Jennifer Ward-Lealand, is at the ASB Waterfront Theatre Wednesday, August 14 - Thursday, August 29.