Auckland Theatre Company has found powerful contemporary relevance in its revival of a John Guare play which made a big splash at its 1990 Broadway premiere and quickly reappeared in a star-studded movie version featuring a youthful Will Smith.
In the 1990s, Six Degrees of Separation offered a sharp satire on the shallowness of limousine liberalism but it delivers a far more disturbing message in an era that is demonstrating how compulsive dishonesty can create its own reality if it is practiced with sufficient vigour and shamelessness.
The play's elaborate layers of imaginative fabrication are founded in the true-life story of a black teenage street-hustler who insinuated himself into the fabulous world of Upper East Side socialites by pretending to be the son of Sydney Poitier.
Tane Williams-Accra, playing the conman at the heart of the story, blends ingratiating charm with vulnerability as he movingly expresses a young man's yearning to be someone other than himself.
Jennifer Ward-Lealand brings panache to the play's urbane irony and finds the emotional core of the story as she confronts the emptiness of an existence which has lost the ability to distinguish between real and fake.
Colin McColl's direction wisely treats the play's satire as high farce and creates plenty of space for the very real emotions which are exposed as the story shades towards tragedy. A similar balancing of contrasts is achieved in John Parker's striking set design which has intersecting rows of chandeliers and pillars set against alluringly dark recesses.
The superb ensemble delivers excellent performances with Andrew Grainger and Bruce Phillips nailing the unholy alliance of art and commerce while Shimpal Lelisi captures the hard-nosed insouciance of a New York detective. Brynley Stent and Leo Maggs evoke the embarrassed humiliation of the victims of a con and there is a suitably gaudy parade of cartoonish cameos mocking the self-involved delusions of the privileged elite.
What: Six Degrees of Separation
Where & When: ASB Waterfront Theatre, until Friday, August 30
Reviewed by: Paul Simei-Barton