Six Degrees of Separation by John Guare

Improvisation 28 (second version) thumbnailImprovisation 28 (second version), 1912, by Vasily Kandinsky

--based on the true story of a confidence man who bluffed his way into Manhattan high society by claiming to be the son of a famous actor.


AMERICAN dramatist John Guare was born in New York City on February 5, 1938. He wrote his first play, Universe, at the tender age of eleven. Educated at Georgetown University and Yale University, Guare first debuted off-off-Broadway in 1964 with To Wally Pantoni, We Leave a Credenza. His first real success, however, did not come until 1968 when a one-act entitled Muzeeka won him an Obie Award. In 1971, the young playwright shot to the forefront of American theatre with House of Blue Leaves, a semi-autobiographical play which firmly established Guare's unique vision. Guare's plays are highly theatrical. He finds the bizarre and comic in the human condition, magnifies it to massive proportions, and from this extracts the germ of his writing. He once stated that he has tried to expand the theatre's boundaries "because I think the chaotic state of the world demands it."

Other works by Guare include Two Gentlemen of Verona (1971), Rich and Famous (1974), The Landscape of the Body (1977), Bosoms and Neglect (1979), and Six Degrees of Separation (1990) which won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, the Dramatists Guild Hull-Warriner Award, and an Olivier Best Play Award. (Source: Theatre Database)

A review from Daily Info, Oxford on a recent production of the play.

A review from the Brothers Judd..

Six degrees of separation is the theory that anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries. The theory was first proposed in 1929 by the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy in a short story called Chains.

In the 1950's, Ithiel de Sola Pool) and Manfred Kochen IBM) set out to prove the theory mathematically. Although they were able to phrase the question (given a set N of people, what is the probability that each member of N is connected to another member via k1, k2, links?), after twenty years they were still unable to solve the problem to their own satisfaction.

In 1967, American sociologist Stanley Milgram (see Small world phenomenon) devised a new way to test the theory, which he called "the small-world problem." He randomly selected people in the American Midwest to send packages to a stranger located in Massachusetts, several thousand miles away. The senders knew the recipient's name, occupation, and general location. They were instructed to send the package to a person they knew on a first-name basis who they thought was most likely, out of all their friends, to know the target personally. That person would do the same, and so on, until the package was personally delivered to its target recipient.

Although the participants expected the chain to include at least a hundred intermediaries, it only took (on average) between five and seven intermediaries to get each package delivered. Milgram's findings were published in Psychology Today and inspired the phrase six degrees of separation. Playwright John Guare popularized the phrase when he chose it as the title for his 1990 play. Although Milgram's findings were discounted after it was discovered that he based his conclusion on a very small number of packages, six degrees of separation became an accepted notion in pop culture after Brett C. Tjaden published a computer game on the University of Virginia's Web site based on the small-world problem. Tjaden used the Internet Movie Database to document connections between different actors. Time Magazine called his site, The Oracle of Bacon at Virginia , one of the "Ten Best Web Sites of 1996."

 Duncan Watts, a professor at Columbia University, continued his own earlier research into the phenomenon and recreated Milgram's experiment on the Internet. Watts used an e-mail message as the "package" that needed to be delivered, and surprisingly, after reviewing the data collected by 48,000 senders and 19 targets (in 157 countries), Watts found that the average number of intermediaries was indeed, six. Watts' research, and the advent of the computer age, has opened up new areas of inquiry related to six degrees of separation in diverse areas of network theory such as power grid analysis, disease transmission, graph theory, corporate communication, and computer circuitry.
(Source: Wikipedia)

Theory explanation announced by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.


(1993) screenplay by the playwright John Guare; directed by Fred Schepisi

The Cast
Stockard Channing .... Ouisa Kittredge
Will Smith .... Paul
Donald Sutherland .... John Flanders ('Flan') Kittredge
Ian McKellen .... Geoffrey Miller
Mary Beth Hurt .... Kitty
Bruce Davison .... Larkin
Richard Masur .... Dr. Fine
Anthony Michael Hall .... Trent Conway
Heather Graham .... Elizabeth
Eric Thal .... Rick

A review of the film in the Washington Post