If the title of Washington playwright Eric Peterson’s new comedy, Seven Strangers in a Circle, sounds any chimes for you, the playwright himself acknowledges his debt to “that whole Six Degrees of Separation thing.” Like John Guare’s play (and later film), Seven Strangers explores the ways that people who’ve never met can alter each others’ lives through the links of common acquaintance.
Peterson’s play (which gets a showcase production from Aug. 25-28 at the Source summer theater festival) opens in Las Vegas, where Robert and Marsha leap into a quickie marriage only hours after getting quickie divorces from their previous spouses. In Scene 2, set back in New York between a bitter Marsha and her brother Gus, we learn that the new marriage, too, has crashed—but Gus gets a Relationship Insight from Marsha’s complaints, which leads to Scene 3, an intense tête-à-tête between Gus and his gay lover, Larry…and so on. The sequence of interconnected two-character scenes eventually circles back to a final re-encounter between Robert and Marsha, who have, Peterson says, “no idea of the chain of events that’s brought them together again.”
Seven Strangers thus takes a mostly sunny view of life’s unforeseen coincidences, an assumption Peterson admits is thrown into doubt by an incident from the play’s tryouts. “We discovered that an actor put a personals ad in City Paper saying they’d really enjoyed kissing a fellow actor at our audition and suggesting a meeting,” he explains. But sadly, the object of the advertiser’s desire hadn’t felt a reciprocal spark—and that was the abrupt end of that particular circle of chance.—John DeVault