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‘Six Degrees of Separation’

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Members of the cast and crew of “Six Degrees of Separation” celebrate April 19 following opening night at Port City Playhouse.

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Director Mary Ayala-Bush and stage manager Mary Beth Smith-Toomey chat after the April 19 performance of “Six Degrees of Separation.”

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Chuck Leonard as Flan and Chaz Pando as Paul in “Six Degrees of Separation.”

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Chaz Pando as con artist Paul in “Six Degrees of Separation.”

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Dana Gattuso is socialite Ouisa at Port City Playhouse.

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Chuck Leonard as Flan and Dana Gattiso as Ouisa.

Kevin Bacon is nowhere to be found. Instead, it’s Sidney Poitier that brings together friends and strangers in “Six Degrees of Separation,” now playing at Port City Playhouse.

The popular “six degrees of separation” theory explores the premise that everyone in the world is connected to everyone else by a chain of no more than six acquaintances, and Port City Playhouse brings playwright John Guare’s smart dialogue to life in a thoughtfully-executed production that showcases a stellar ensemble cast.

“Everyone enjoys playing the ‘Kevin Bacon’ game,” said Director Mary Ayala-Bush following the opening night performance April 19. “This play is a wonderful mélange of people’s relationships, their function and dysfunction and how all these people are searching for different types of acceptance.”

The 1990 play was inspired by the real-life story of David Hampton, a con man who managed to convince a number of people in the 1980s that he was the son of actor Sidney Poitier. Several of Guare’s friends were caught up in the swindle and he based his fictional characters on their experience.

“Six Degrees” opens with the affluent Flan (Chuck Leonard) and Ouisa (Dana Gattiso) attempting to get Geoffrey (Cal Whitehurst) to invest in a Cezanne painting when a young man shows up at their 5th Avenue condo.

Claiming to be a Harvard classmate of their children, Paul (Chaz Pando) is bleeding and says he has just been robbed. Charming and charismatic, he regales everyone with tales of his screen legend father, who he says will be arriving the next day. But before then, he needs money and a place to stay.

But all is not what it seems, despite Paul knowing the intimates details of Flan and Ouisa’s life.

Following his breakout performance in Port City’s “The Soul Collector,” Pando returns in the tour de force role of Paul, an effortless and manipulative con artist without a conscience. His theatrical counterpart is Gattiso, who gives a stirring performance as Ouisa tries to make sense of Paul’s behavior.

The bench of talent runs deep as Ayala-Bush brings to life a group of coddled, confused New Yorkers. Leonard masters the snarky wit of Flan while Jennifer McClean and Jon Poole are annoyingly fun as the victims’ spoiled offspring. Kyle McGruther and Marcus Anderson give touching performances as sexually conflicted young men.

Produced by Frank Pasqualino with costumes by the award-winning team of Kit Sibley and Jean Schlichting, Ayala-Bush masterfully augments Guare’s script with Port City’s first in-the-round production.

In the hands of the capable Port City Playhouse theater company, “Six Degrees of Separation” is a sharp, funny and often poignant look at the causes and consequences of con artistry.

“Six Degrees of Separation” is playing now through May 4 at Port City Playhouse, 1819 N. Quaker Lane. For tickets or more information, visit www.portcityplayhouse.org.