Killian Manning takes the stage herself at times to narrate a succession of events — one real and the rest imaginary — that involve her mother Cathy Manning (played with passion by Leigh Hall) and her newborn self and a quirky assortment of characters from the Hollywood Dream factory and the world of ballet, Beat poetry, rock and roll, pop art, and Cold War politics.
1*9*5*6 Degrees of Separation, whose title is itself is a paraphrase of the title of the 1993 play Six Degrees of Separation by John Guare, doesn’t take itself too seriously; and neither should its audience. Manning builds her play around three princesses — English prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn (1919-91), American movie star and soon-to-be Princess consort of Monaco Grace Kelly (1929-82), and Hollywood actress and sex symbol Marilyn Monroe (1926-62) — played with pizzazz by Sarah Adams Bean, Elisabeth Johnson, and J. Evarts, respectively. The fourth woman is photographer and author Diane Arbus (1923-71), whom Marcia Edmundson portrays vividly.
Jonathan Leinbach and Joe Baldock add light-footed portrayals of former U.S. Army general and now President Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) and U.S. Senator and future President John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-63). Derrick Ivey paints a colorful portrait of their implacable foe, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971), and doubles delightfully as Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg (1926-97), reciting the “Sunflower Sutra” from Howl.
Matthew Young plays popular classical pianist Glenn Gould (1932-82), and Leinbach adds a brief cameo as German Baroque composer and organist Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), dancing with Glenn Gould to the “Goldberg Variations.”
Nicola Bullock sashays onstage memorably as American pop artist and style-setter Andy Warhol (1928-87), but Ronnie West is loose-limbed and wiggly but not nearly charismatic enough as swivel-hipped rock-and-roll king Elvis Presley (1935-77).Joe Baldock, on the other hand, is suitably cheeky as 16-year-old Elvis fan and future Beatle John Lennon (1940-80).
Performed in a little more than an hour, without intermission, 1*9*5*6 Degrees of Separation is a cavalcade of whimsy that draws its humor from putting familiar figures from the recent past into unfamiliar predicaments. The show’s biggest laughs come during the segment spotlighting Derrick Ivey as Khrushchev as the shoe-banging emcee of an American television game show, but there are moments of mirth throughout these pixilated proceedings.
SECOND OPINION: June 21st Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Kate Dobbs Ariail: http://www.indyweek.com/artery/archives/2012/06/21/coming-of-age-in-the-era-of-marilyn-eisenhower-and-the-beats-in-1956-degrees-of-separation; and June 14th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Cliff Bellamy: http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story/18985946/article-The-unquiet-decade-/ (Note: you may have to register to read this article online). (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/06/manbites-dog-theater-will-host-the-world-premiere-of-killian-mannings-1956-degrees-of-separation/.)
No Forwarding Address presents 1*9*5*6 DEGREES OF SEPARATION, created by Killian Manning, at 8:15 p.m. June 23 and 3:15 p.m. June 24 at Manbites Dog Theater, 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $17, with discounts for students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel.
BOX OFFICE: 919-682-3343 or http://manbitesdogtheater.tix.com/Schedule.asp?OrganizationNumber=150.
Killian E. Manning: http://www.balletschoolofchapelhill.com/Killian Manning.htm (Ballet School of Chapel Hill) and http://www.uncg.edu/cst/faculty/bios/manningvit.html (University of North Carolina at Greensboro).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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