Credit: Jan Ellen Graves

John Guare’s intricate, rarified 1990 play, about a clutch of white New York
elites whose lives are upended when Paul, a charismatic young
African-American man falsely claiming to be Sidney Poitier’s son,
ingratiates himself into their lives, seems to go in all directions at
once, swirling and spinning from high farce to biting satire to wrenching
tragedy in just over 90 minutes. Like Paul, a con man who appears to want
little from his “victims” but social acceptance, nothing here is quite what
it seems, most of all the comfort and confidence that privilege purports to
convey.

As the author notes, the play must “go like the wind.” Director Steve
Scott’s staging goes like a gentle breeze. In Redtwist’s cramped confines,
superimposition of scenes is impossible, requiring a full reset each time
Guare’s script veers off in yet another unexpected direction (in the
original Lincoln Center production, actors often appeared and disappeared
on an upper level as though floating in darkness). And Scott’s cast
struggles to find a tone pliable enough to encompass the script’s stylistic
extremes. Everything is clear and cogent and, best of all, intellectually
engaging, but it lacks the feverishness that gives the play its
hallucinogenic momentum.

The production’s ace in the hole is Donovan Sessions, whose meticulous,
magnetic, heartbreaking performance as Paul makes most everything around
him cohere. When he’s onstage, which isn’t near often enough, he is pure
mesmerizing unfathomability. When he finally confronts the emptiness of his
manufactured identity, it’s agonizing.   v