Though the extreme brilliance of the acting talent and artistic beauty of the show “Six Degrees of Separation” made it shine like no show I’ve seen in a very long time, one actor stood out- not necessarily for his acting ability (though that is also amazing) but for his vocal performance. This actor was Mark Pouhe who played the character of Paul- the youth that, with his cunning and quick learning, managed to spend time with, and impress, the wealthy socialites of New York City.
Before the technical aspects of Pouhe’s voice throughout most of the play can even be touched, it must be said that his vocal transformations were nothing short of amazing. In addition to doing a fantastic job of just speaking as Paul, Pouhe also managed to do a wonderful South African accent for his father- who, to me at least, sounded appropriately like James Earl Jones in “Cry the Beloved Country”. Equally impressive was his portrayal of the same character before he had learned how to mix with the elite. It was obviously a lower-class dialect- but you could still understand him. Even very good actors sometimes tend to fall into the trap of being sloppy with articulation when they do lower class accents, but he managed to pull it off where I could still understand every word.
That said; Pouhe brought an incredible power to the character primarily through the use of his voice. His articulation throughout the show was immaculate- as is befitting the character he played. I especially liked the way he said the word “imagination”. That one word became truly beautiful when he spoke it, and you could tell it was something the character felt very strongly about. Pouhe’s pronunciation followed suit. As I previously stated, he negotiated changes in pronunciation effortlessly between characters. He also kept his pronunciation upper class, without seeming to have the pretension of the other upper class characters.
Another thing that struck me about Pouhe was probably more of a directing choice than anything else, but I admire him for being able to carry it off so effortlessly. Vocally speaking, Paul is different from all of the other characters in the play. He speaks more slowly and with greater thought than anyone else. While the doctor is panicking, Paul is calm. When Trent is all riled up, Paul is calm, his voice demanding, but still slow and measured. Paul is also the only character whose speeches really seem to be melodic. It’s music listening to the character’s words, hearing the actor speak. Paul has a smoother rhythm than any other character, especially in his monologues- the most notable of which being his “thesis” monolouge about the imagination. Listening to that is like listening to music. The combination of this slower tempo and smoother rhythm gives Paul an almost dreamlike quality, as though he were not really real.
This dreamlike sense is not negated by Pouhe’s pitch, which is low, but not too low. His pitch didn’t seem to fluctuate much within the story, or within any given scene, but this gave him a captivating, magical feel, and drew attention to the pitch changes that *were* there- just smaller and more subtle. He sounds a lot like the ocean- a slow, but strong noise that you can get in your blood until you aren’t even aware of the noise anymore. It’s almost hypnotizing. Pouhe aided this effect by keeping a fairly consistent volume during most of his sentences as well (though, of course, some scenes he would be much louder than others) once again drawing attention to the subtle changes in his voice rather than large ones.
Pouhe didn’t seem to use a lot of non-verbals in his performance, but I think this also focused more attention on the subtle ones he did use- some soft sighs and a “hn” or two. Vocally speaking, he really carried the play- with a great amount of help from Katherine Lott. Pouhe’s intense character and equally intense voice really made the play something to remember. Haunting and profound, he delivers the final line of the play, “The Kandinsky; it’s painted on both sides” in a superb voice that rang in the audience’s ears long after the play had ended.