Six-Degree Burns

John Guare's dramathink

John Guare was 51 when his astonishing comedy Six Degrees of Separation was first produced. When people asked how long it took him to write the play, the native New Yorker would reply, "Fifty-one years." His answer was less glib than it might sound, for Six Degrees is one of those rare plays that synthesizes a career -- perhaps even a life.

Six Degrees of Separation takes its title from the premise that only six people are required to connect anyone on earth with anyone else; it's the Kevin Bacon joke taken to extremes. When perceptively staged (which means that the actors must not reduce their roles, no matter how facile, into caricatures), its social satire shines as sharply as light from a cut diamond.

Set on Manhattan's Upper East Side, the play centers around Ouisa Kittredge. (Her real name is Louisa, but with typical upper-crust pretension, it has been shorted by one consonant.) Events begin to spiral out of control when Ouisa and her art-dealer husband Flanders attempt to assist a young black man who has been mugged in Central Park. The youth claims to be the son of Sidney Poitier, who is in town to direct a film version of Cats. Ouisa and Flan are seduced by the lure of glamour by association. But then, Ouisa and Flan inhabit a world so removed from reality, it wouldn't surprise us to see them break into a minuet. By evening's end (it's a compact evening, which will run about 90 minutes without intermission) the play escalates into a poignant, if cryptic, dance of death.

Although Six Degrees was the surprise hit of the 1990-91 New York theater season, the play proved to be a little too New York to establish itself as a staple among America's regional theaters. Yet it's a potentially ideal debut offering for the fledgling Stray Dog Theatre, which is mounting it in the Central West End -- precisely the right locale to savor this dazzling comedy of manners (City Studio Dance Center, 4397 Laclede Avenue, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through July 27, 314-531-5923, $12-$15, www.straydogtheatre.org). -- Dennis Brown

Our Mighty Organ
It's not just for Mass anymore

SUN 7/13

There are few things capable of stymieing the senses in the manner that a full pipe organ does. Never mind that its gargantuan potential for volume can rattle the humors to the brink of carbonation. The full mechanism of the most expansive specimens of the instrument cannot be accommodated by the human field of vision, as there are often more than a thousand pipes involved in the design, some reaching thirty-two feet into the air.

In 1640, Sebastian Kilgen built his first organ in Durlach, Germany, and the secrets of his marvelous craft were passed down through generations until the renowned firm of George Kilgen & Sons made its home in St. Louis in 1873. Perhaps one of the finest examples of the family's handiwork exists in the cavernous sanctuary of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis (4431 Lindell Boulevard), and at 3 p.m., Italy's Mario Duella will deftly wrangle sounds large and sweet from the great Kilgen organ. A $5 donation is suggested. For more information, call 314-533-7662. -- John Goddard

Is This Thing On?
Li'l comics = big laughs

THUR 7/10

Kids are inherently funny. They're more observant than adults and less inhibited about what they say, and so they end up saying things that strike adults as outrageously funny, as any doting parent can (and will) tell you. This, combined with their natural cuteness, makes them supremely well-equipped to tackle the world of stand-up and improvised comedy (who could heckle a cherubic, half-size Jerry Seinfeld?). If only there were someone who could focus the natural comedic gifts of children away from the bathroom humor and into insightful social satire. (Or at least help them craft a poop joke that will really make you think.)

Ed Reggi, local improv guru best known for his work with the more grown-up PaperSLIP Theatre, is doing his part to help the young generation of comedians hone their raw skills into polished talent. His COCA Comedy Club Camp teaches kids the basics of joke telling, comedic improv and how to craft a cohesive comedy routine. On Thursday, Reggi's young students will test their comedic chops at the University City Public Library (6701 Delmar Boulevard, 314-727-3150) with a free 2 p.m. performance. Even if you're not a parent of a performer, you'll probably laugh your head off. And besides, it's at the library, so there's no cover charge and no drink minimum. BA-DUMP-BUMP (ching!). -- Paul Friswold

Song Sorceress

THUR 7/10

Maybe Duran Duran's "Save a Prayer" is stuck in your head, even though you have no idea when you last heard it. According to The Song Reader, a novel by native Missourian Lisa Tucker, your psyche is probably sending you a cryptic message. This Midwestern V.C. Andrews-esque narrative about family, sisters, and coming-of-age in the early '80s suggests the lyrics of a song may mean more than meets the ear. Older sister and "song reader" Mary Beth explains, "Those same words would be ignored if someone tried to just say them to you, but when they're in the music, it's different -- you can't help but open up."

You can meet Tucker, one of Seventeen magazine's "Book Divas" (could we make this up?), at the Brentwood Borders (1519 South Brentwood Boulevard, 314-918-8189) at 7 p.m. for free. Read the book and go see her, so the next time you hum "Save a Prayer" in the shower, you'll know why. -- Alison Sieloff

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