VI DEGREES by Kash Goins opens with a playfully sexual banter between an affianced couple: Solomon (Carlo Campbell), a classic tall, dark, and handsome schoolteacher lounging at home in his underwear, and Sherry (Tiffany E. Green), a well-dressed businesswoman with a sweet, conservative nature, a week before the big “I do’s.” To honor their religious upbringing, they are saving themselves for their wedding night.
Family antics imbue the stage with a lighthearted mood as Solomon, his suave best man Rich (Walter deShields), his level-headed and selfless sister Lissy (Alicia Diane), and a boisterous wedding planner named Tina (Tiffany Bacon), humorously argue tailoring, catering, and entertainment suggestions—all part of bargain-basement, last-minute wedding arrangements. The scene ends with Lissy taking homemade wedding cake to the face, stressfully shouting “a whole mess!” Conveniently following this utterance, the plot thickens as it steeps into the mires of adultery—a mess indeed!
Night arrives. With his fiancée away on business and with the apartment at his disposal, Solomon has little patience for saving himself, as he spends the night with Nee Nee (Mercedes Simmons), a statuesque young woman in revealing, flashy gold attire.
As the hush-hush lovers fool around in the bedroom, Solomon’s heart races after hearing his bride-to-be open the apartment door, returning early from her business trip. To surprise him, she wears lingerie, rewarding his patience with a “cheat” night before the wedding. What irony! Unsuspecting of her partner’s cheating, she finds his mistress in the bedroom—the first of many relationship breaches, betrayals, and marital violations to come.
VI Degrees of Separation
“VI DEGREES” as a title reflects a theory first investigated in 1929 by Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy in his short story “Chains,” later developed in 1967 by sociologist Stanley Milgram in his article “The Small World Problem” published by Psychology Today, and in 1990 popularized by playwright John Guare in his play, Six Degrees of Separation. The theory posits that any two people in the world can be linked by association, as in “a friend of a friend,” in a maximum of six steps. Likewise in Goins’ play, relationship betrayers link together any two characters. Through infidelity, they are all comrades in erotic arms.
As his play unfolds, the audience learns a staggering truth: connection by sexual association does not equate with substantial human connection. Goins’ characters embody a counterintuitive concept—in being the most connected, they are disconnected. Following the play’s conclusion, we see that connection does not always beget harmony, as those most connected may be the most detached of all.
VI Degrees of Heat
“VI DEGREES” X-rays the heat of adulterous passion the characters have for their lovers, instead of their committed partners. Solomon sidesteps his engagement to Sherry, impassioned for Nee Nee, as she herself oversteps two romantic boundaries—burning for both Solomon and later his robust adolescent nephew Rome (Jason Stewart), after he finally returns home from four years in juvy (juvenile detention). Tamika (Cortnee Love), Solomon’s sister, trespasses her marriage to husband Keith (Kash Goins), a large and loud man, blazing for suave Rich, a seven-year affair kindled by Tamika’s and Keith’s constant arguments at home and the strain of having their three-year-old son hospitalized with a blistering fever, six degrees higher than normal. The heat turns up.
In relationships seeded only by self-serving sex, intimate connections have no fertile ground on which to blossom, especially after the most jeopardizing affair of all is revealed: that of Solomon and Rich.
The Down Low
A drunken Rich grabbing his best friend’s crotch stirred a sea of gasps among the audience, including myself. Their sexual connection erects the cornerstone bridging everyone’s degrees of separation. It also introduces a new layer of pride and shame not found in the other affairs: the down-low subculture, a slang term describing a unique sexual identity among a number of African American adult males who live a heterosexual lifestyle, but secretly engage in sex with other men.
Desperate to keep their clandestine lifestyle under wraps, Goins’ male characters control the ignorance of their loved ones, compromising the authenticity of their relationships. However, they also breach their own identity, wrestling with the aggressive denial of their same sex passions, which contradict their social conditioning.
Solomon—tall, handsome, a man of masculine caliber—epitomizes this aggressive denial as he nervously, then angrily, circumvents all questions alluding to his true relationship with Rich when being tested for AIDS at the insistence of his concerned sister, Lissy.
While this event unravels in the living room, Nee Nee and Rome are making love in the back bedroom, with Rome using a broken condom. When they finish, Nee Nee tears off her wig, revealing her tragic past, having been raped by her father. Rome breaks down in tears as he confesses being pinned down and gang-raped by men in juvy. This is the one intimate connection between two characters in the entire two-hour play, characterized by openness and vulnerability, instead of concealment and false pride.
In this instance of genuine openness, Nee Nee discloses a secret, illuminating the spider-like thread which transparently links everyone together in this AIDS-infected age, revealing the destructive nature of every character’s tragic commonality in this play about chains of relationships and unprotected sex with countless partners. Expectations of a happy and healthy life dismantled, their lives will never be the same again.
Solomon and Rich, the two main characters, acting like sexual spiders, covertly controlling and weaving their own webs of pleasure with women and men, became gnats—adhesively ensnared by their own deception.
VI DEGREES shook me to the reality of down-low subculture and its life-damaging behavior in this well-performed production. Being a white male sitting among a mostly black audience, my initial feeling of being “out of place” made way for an exuberant participation in the cathartic applause with the community around me. [The Skybox at Adrienne Theater] May 21-24, 2015; gokashproductions.com.