Six Degrees of Separation

Director: Fred Schepisi

John Guare’s hit play Six Degrees of Separation has been faithfully adapted into a marvellously entertaining movie by director Fred Schepisi. It was Schepisi who earlier wrestled with another theatrical heavyweight in the form of David Hare’s Plenty, but this time he’s much more successful in balancing literary/theatrical conceits and cinematic realism.
Guare’s brilliantly written piece provides a witty dissection of the social mores of a group of white middle class New Yorkers whose world is invaded by a smart young black man. Paul (Will Smith, who has since shot to fame in Bad Boys) arrives on the doorstep of the Kittredges (Donald Sutherland and Stokard Channing) suffering from a stab wound. Claiming to be the victim of a mugging, Paul brings out the best liberal principles of the couple, who are also impressed by the man’s sophisticated banter. Asserting that he knows their children from Harvard and purporting to be the son of Sidney Poitier, Paul is offered shelter, money and friendship. But the Kittredges soon discover that Paul is an impostor, and that he has the same scam on ohters in their social circle.
With its amusing references to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? And powerfully imaginative treatment of Paul’s ruse as a tour-de-force of performance artr, Guare’s tale sparkles with ideas and smart dialogue. Schepisi isn’t over whelmed by the rich verbiage, and succeeds in imposing a distinctive visual style on the piece (the set design, New York locations and Ian Baker’s wide screen cinematography are all top-notch). More imortantly, the actors are terrific, with Stockard Channing outstanding as the vivaciousl Mrs. Kittredge, who in the end provides the heart and soul of this clever concoction.

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