John Guare’s magnificent play crackles with emotional and intellectual energy and is crowned by the radiant performance of Marlo Thomas. Guare’s distinctive mix of piercing social insight with broad, almost burlesque presentation delivers an engrossing, entertaining and thought-provoking evening.
Play is inspired by real 1988 incident in which an African-American teenager talked his way into the homes of several prominent Manhattan couples by claiming to be a college friend of their children and the son of actor Sidney Poitier. While it is intriguing, this curious vignette hardly suggests a promising premise for a play. However, in the skillful, imaginative and off-beat mind of John Guare, the story springs to life in a variety of unpredictable ways. Successful art dealer Flan Kittredge (John Cunningham) and his energetic, relentlessly middle-brow wife Ouisa (Thomas) are the first victims of Paul (Ntare Mwine), who arrives at their apartment in the middle of an important art deal with a stab wound in the stomach, claiming to be the son of Sidney Poitier. In short order, he charms the Kittredges and their guest, South African art dealer Geoffrey (Sam Stoneburner).
After catching Paul later that evening in the embrace of a male hustler (James DuMont), the Kittredges spend the rest of the play trying to unravel the mystery of Paul, and why he set out on the extraordinary mission to dupe them and other unsuspecting couples. Like any good whodunit, this play focuses on the central question of who is this stranger and why did he do it.
With the chase for truth begun, the play embarks on a wild journey of racial and class friction, intergenerational strife, family dysfunction, marital malaise, the clash of high and low culture and, ultimately, the search for not simply personal identity, but some kind of universal human understanding.
Although this sounds like a lot to cover in a 90-minute play, Guare cuts deftly through the thicket of modern society like a jungle explorer with a machete.
Equally gratifying as the excellent script are the outstanding performances. Thomas is exquisite as the brash, breezy and yet unself-consciously wise Ouisa. Thomas seizes this character by the teeth and doesn’t let go, right down to Ouisa’s last poignant moment of revelation. Cunningham is outstanding as the stalwart, slightly bewildered art dealer husband, who struggles to make sense while he is making money.
And Ugandan actor Ntare Mwine is steadfast and solid as the mysterious Paul, giving us glimpses of the character’s inner torture, but never revealing too much.
Director Jerry Zaks deserves particular praise for spinning out the clear yet raucous level of production that this intricate and complicated script merits.