I was anxious to read this play because I’d known a bit about the plot and film adaptation for a while, without ever having seen or read it. It wasn’t exactly what I expected, but it’s a very compelling and strange story that’s sure to keep audiences hooked.
The story generally centers around the lives of Ouisa and Flan, a very wealthy couple living in New York City, whose lives are interrupted when Paul, an African American peer of their children’s at Harvard, appears at their apartment after being mugged. Paul claims to be the son of actor Sidney Poitier, and the relationship between Paul and Ouisa and Flan sets off to a quick and memorable start. However, as the action continues, the play gets more and more disturbing and strange, delving into an unexpected realm of social standards.
One thing I really enjoyed about Guare’s writing is that it doesn’t create a caricature of any stereotypical person. Ouisa, who could seem a flighty, self-centered woman is much more compassionate and giving than you might expect, and Paul could inspire a very serious character study. I appreciated the fact that the most important characters in this story were quite three-dimensional when Guare could have taken an easier route and used archetypical characters. Coincidentally, I think the film adaptation did a successful job of effectively capturing the essence of the play. Stockard Channing is fantastic as Ouisa, and Will Smith gives a strong performance as Paul in what I imagine was one of his first roles post “Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” If you like literature that takes you on a journey, this play (or movie) is for you.