In preparation for our forthcoming show SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION, now in rehearsals, I had gone through many reviews of the John Guare play; and many had referenced THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES by Tom Wolfe.  “Transcendent…magical…a masterwork that captures New York as Tom Wolfe did …” as Frank Rich wrote in his review of the play. So, I set forth to my local bookstore and picked up a copy of the Wolfe satire.  There is maybe a difference of a few years between when both plot lines take place, but the main themes and ideas are shared. The issue of class, race, status, identity, sexuality, and connection are all burned in the pages. The other thing they share is the New York pace, the quickness, the whirlwind, the speed, the thrill.

In early discussions of how we wanted to put our mark on this  play, the theme of isolation and disconnection kept coming up.  There is an excerpt from BONFIRE, they captures an element these themes:

“Insulation! That was the ticket. If you want to live in New York, you’ve got to insulate yourself from these people. The cynicism and the smugness of the tide struck as very au courant. If you could go breezing down the FDR in a taxi, then why file into the trenches of the urban wars?”

Steve  had said that in many ways SIX DEGREES and BLUE SURGE share an equal fate: BLUE SURGE is about the insulation and isolation of the poor and their inability to break out of that world, and SIX DEGREES is about the same thing, only with the upper class, the rich.

A major difference I find in Tom Wolfe’s book and John Guare’s play is that Wolfe has no mercy, sympathy, admiration, doesn’t find or give many redeeming qualities in the menagerie of characters he has created. Guare, on the other hand, has tremendous love for his characters.  It is very important, as Steve said at our reading of the play, with the full glorious cast assembled, that we  like these characters. And there is the trick of the play, I think. If we as the audience, the cast, the crew, the reader, genuinely like all of these characters despite their flaws and status and attitudes, then we have succeeded in delivering the power of this piece; a very timely  piece when it first premiered as it is now.

Perhaps that is why the famous actors of the movie THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES, speak ill of the film. Wolfe passed judgement on them through his story telling, instead of leaving it to the reader to cast the stone.


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