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Six Degrees of Separation Everybody's either a con man in John Guare's acidic comedy of manners or about to get scammed. Nobody's pure at heart, not in this Manhattan nest of privileged vipers, where everyone seems to reinvent himself or to be in desperate need of wanting to, or is oblivious to the need for change. In an utterly delightful and satisfying production, Country Playhouse draws back the veil on the phoniness of these shallow people and reveals the price to be paid for self-examination. Flanders and Ouisa (Brian Heaton and Renata Smith, both arrogantly urban) live a charmed life high above Central Park in an aerie filled with pricey works of art (a Kandinsky that figures prominently in their lives hangs aglow on the wall). At first glance, the couple is to be envied, since they seem to have everything: They eat at the best restaurants; they go to A-list parties; their kids attend Harvard and Groton; they can drop the most impressive names when it's necessary to drop them. In their constant pursuit of profit and status, the couple hardly realizes that they've been blindsided big time when a young black man, Paul (Christopher St. Mary, in a thoroughly captivating performance), literally barges into their living room, bleeding from a mugging and seeking their help. Their kids are his friends at Harvard, he claims; he knows all the right things to say. Charming and glib, he's got perfect manners. He cooks them dinner, then cleans up afterward. To top it off, he's the son of Sidney Poitier. Who can doubt such a story when told with such silky aplomb by such a perceptive young man? The couple is smitten. Things go awry quickly under Guare's suave, sure theatrical hand. A hustler bursts out of the guest room, followed by a contrite Paul. Soon, another high-end couple, Kitty and Larkin (Yvonne Nelson and Sam Stengler), relate their tale. They, too, have been taken in by this young man through the same modus operandi; so has Dr. Fine (Lee Honeycutt) from Park Avenue; so has a naive couple from Utah, Elizabeth and Rick (Kaylin Zeren and Jose Luiz Rivera), who've just arrived in Manhattan with dreams of their own to remake their lives. But Paul has hit a nerve with Ouisa. In the play's most famous speech, she relates how everyone in the world is connected by knowing only six people. The trick is finding the right six. Knowing Paul has stripped away her veneer, or at least the first layer or so. She's the only one who begins to see her life with any clarity. Leaving options open, Guare ends the play on this note of discovery. Director Jim Tommany overlays the work with breezy assurance, letting Guare's dramatic touches occur naturally within the artifice. At 90 minutes, this intriguing, darkly inky play zooms along, always fresh and surprising as it prods and provokes. Through May 25. 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497. — DLG

There Is a Happiness That Morning Is In 2011, Catastrophic Theatre mounted There Is a Happiness That Morning Is, Mickle Maher's boldly original dedication to "love, sex and the poetry of William Blake," and due to popular demand they have brought the production back for another limited run. Directed by Catastrophic's Artistic Director, Jason Nodler, the play takes place at a financially failing liberal arts college where Bernard (Troy Schulze) and his lover Ellen (Amy Bruce) are two professors who both happen to teach the poetry of William Blake. The play opens with Bernard's acknowledgment to his Blake class that he and Ellen got somewhat swept away during the previous evening when the two, in the midst of a Blake oratory, went at it on the campus lawn for all to see. The entire play is written in rhymed verse, and the first half consists of monologues by the two actors of the event and how it is related to Blake's writing. For Bernard the act of passion was a thing of beauty, two bodies coming together out of pure love and exultation. Bernard's recounting of the evening is childlike and dreamy and Schulze makes his innocence, and perhaps naiveté, absolutely convincible and lovable. Ellen, on the other hand, does not see eye to eye with him. Bruce plays her as a tightly wound up ball of nerves. She refuses to apologize to the school or to the Dean (Kyle Sturdivant) because she doesn't think he deserves an apology. Ellen is painfully angry and Bruce gives her the perfect amount of emotion and depth. While some of the reasons behind Ellen's anger toward Bernard and their fleeting love seemed out of character, the duality between Bernard and Ellen's perceptions and the influence their night of love has had on them is a wonder to watch, especially as it is woven into both the poetry of Blake and Maher's own mastery over the English language. This is not a simple play, which is what is so wonderful about it. It makes you think, and you have to pay attention. Maher's verse and plot are so intricately married to the two Blake poems that you'll feel proud of yourself for keeping up with it all. Go with your thinking cap on tight, but go, seriously. This is what theater is supposed to be. Through May 25. 119 East Fwy., catastrophictheatre.com. — AK

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