On This Gay Day: ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ made its debut

The play ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ made its debut in 1990

John Guare’s play Six Degrees of Separation made its off-Broadway debut on this day in 1990, opening at the Lincoln Center in New York. It transferred to Broadway in November and ran for 485 performances, closing on 5th January 1992. 

The play tells the story of upper-class couple Fran and Ouisa Kitteredge, who are art dealers living in an expensive apartment overlooking Central Park. One night their dinner soiree is interrupted by a young black man who arrives at their door.

Paul has a slight stab wound and his mugged in the park, he explains that he is a friend of their college aged children. He explains he is the son of actor Sidney Poitier, and is in town to meet his father the following day, he shares that his father will be directing a film version of the musical Cats

They insist the young man stays the night in the their guest bedroom, but in the morning they discover a male sex worker Paul ventured out to meet after they went to bed is also in the house. They call the police but Paul and the hustler quickly leave. They later learn that the actor Sidney Poitier only has daughters, and their children have no idea who their mysterious overnight guest was.      

The interaction kicks off a series of events that leaves the couple questioning their lives and motivations, and theme of acceptance of sexuality runs through the piece.

The role of Ouisa drew acclaimed performance from actor Stockard Channing, who played the part in the play both in New York and London, and then the subsequent film adaptation.

The role of Paul was originally played by James McDaniel in the Off-Broadway production, he would go on to star in the TV series NYPD Blue. When the show moved to Broadway Courtney B. Vance took over the part, and Adrian Lester played in in the West End.

In the film adaptation from Australian director Fred Schepisi the role of Paul was played by Will Smith. Taking on a gay role was considered a brave move back in 1992 when the film came out and many people advised the young actor against accepting the part. Smith’s performance was seen as a significant step in his career that allowed people to see him as a serious actor.

Also appearing in the film adaptation is Donald Sutherland, Ian McKellen, Mary Beth Hurt, Heather Graham, Bruce Davison, Richard Masur, Anthony Michael Hall, and Anthony Rapp.

The play had a Broadway revival in 2017 with Alison Janney playing the role of Ouisa Kitteridge. Janney starred alongside Stockard Channing in seven seasons of TV’s The West Wing. 

The story is based on a real life event. In the late 1980s con-man David Hampton convinced many people he was the son of Sidney Pointier, including Inger McCabe Elliot and her husband Osborne Elliot, who allowed Hampton to spend a night at their apartment, only yo discover him in bed with another man in the morning. They told the story to their friend, writer John Guare, and it inspired his play.

OIP Staff

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