Only six people, six connections, separate every human on the planet from any other human, according to theory of six degrees of separation.
In other words, we're all somehow connected.
John Guare's play "Six Degrees of Separation" follows Paul, a young black man, as his life intertwines with the lives of several elite New Yorkers.
In doing so, the play tells a story of human connection, but that's not what director Mike Empson initially expected.
As Empson, director of the Williamsburg Players' production, studied and analyzed the play, the themes most apparent, he said, "were things like race relations, class warfare and the social strata."
As rehearsals went on, his conception changed.
"All of that stuff is present, and it doesn't take any significance away from that," he said. "But really, it's a story about connection and the need to, I think for all of us, to feel a sense of belonging and a closeness with other people. And that's not something that money or race or social status or anything else can get you."
The award-winning play opens at James-York Playhouse this weekend, running through Feb. 4.
Charming and intelligent, Paul enters the home of Ouisa and Flan Kittredge. He says he knows their children from college and also states he's Sidney Poitier's son. But Paul is a con artist, it turns out, and he's done this before.
"He's been abandoned by his family, and so he's really searching for a family," said Rico Robinson, who portrays Paul in the play.
Robinson encountered the play through the 1993 movie version, starring Will Smith, Donald Sutherland and Stockard Channing. He strongly connected to Paul's complex character, and he sees Paul's quest for belonging as a story within the larger story.
"I think what Paul is trying to say in the play is, 'See me. Hear me,'" Robinson said.
But as Empson realized, Paul is not the central character. Ouisa is.
As Ouisa bonds with Paul, she realizes the shallowness of her own life, Empson said.
"I think the play says that there is still potential for reinjecting meaning into your life. It says that through Ouisa," said Jim Dwyer, who plays Flan Kittredge. "But not everyone is going to seize the opportunity for that. Flan doesn't."
Dwyer felt drawn to Flan because he embodies an all-too-common arc of life: from young, purposeful and passionate to focused on "creature comforts," Dwyer said.
"You lose that passion and become focused on more material things, survival and competition, getting ahead," he said.
When Paul steps into the Kittredge's relatively empty lives, he reminds Flan of the creative man he once was, of the meaning art once held, but Flan soon forgets.
Throughout the play, a double-sided Kandinsky painting hangs from the center of the stage. It's a set piece, yes, but it becomes an important metaphor, Empson said.
The painting, its shapes and colors reserved and tidy on one side, rotates to reveal the another side bursting with energy and spirit.
"We all have our public and our private personas," Empson said, "but so often we paint ourselves into one very specific role, and we forget that the other side exists."
Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.
Want to go?
When: 8 p.m., Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m., Saturdays; Jan. 19-Feb. 4
Where: James-York Playhouse, 200 Hubbard Lane
Tickets: $20/adults, $12/students and children, available at 757-229-0431 or williamsburgplayers.org.