Six Degrees of Separation is a play written by American playwright John Guare. It first premiered in 1990 at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater in New York City. It was nominated for both the Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Its plot hinges on the premise that only “six degrees” of separation (or acquaintance) separate one human being from another.
The mood of the play all throughout is tragic and profound, as it explores the aching need of each person for human connection—and how, sometimes, this leads to harm. Paul, a young African American man, exploits this need as he cons his way into people’s lives by claiming that he has some obscure connection to them. He claims, for example, that he is an acquaintance of Flan and Ouisa Kittredge’s son—whom the two are estranged from. Out of their desperation to reconnect with their son, the two take Paul in. When the two finally discover the truth, it is too late—Paul had successfully escaped.
The play proves that humans are fragile, emotional beings who are susceptible to manipulation by what is seemingly familiar or known to them. At the end of the play, in fact, Ouisa agrees to help Paul again despite him having originally conned her. She is the one who delivers the now-famous monologue:
I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation. Between us and everybody else on this planet. The president of the United States. A gondolier in Venice. Fill in the names. I find that A) tremendously comforting that we're so close and B) like Chinese water torture that we're so close. Because you have to find the right six people to make the connection. It's not just big names. It's anyone. A native in a rain forest. A Tierra del Fuegan. An Eskimo. I am bound to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people. It's a profound thought. How Paul found us. How to find the man whose son he pretends to be. Or perhaps is his son, although I doubt it. How every person is a new door, opening up into other worlds. Six degrees of separation between me and everyone else on this planet. But to find the right six people.