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Broadway Review: “Six Degrees of Separation” at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre (On Sale through July 16, 2017)

Photo: Allison Janney and John Benjamin Hickey in "Six Degrees of Separation." Credit: Joan Marcus/©2016 Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “Six Degrees of Separation” at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre (On Sale through July 16, 2017)
Written by John Guare
Directed by Trip Cullman
Reviewed by Michele Willens
Theatre Reviews Limited

With dramatic revivals, the question always becomes: is it too soon or is it too dated? Now, John Guare’s 1990 award- winning dark comedy, “Six Degrees of Separation,” has made its first return to Broadway. Fortunately, this proves a perfect time to savor a play about a momentous evening – and its immediate aftermath – when a seemingly desperate but charming young black man appeared at the doorstep of a radically chic Upper East Side couple.

The con-man claimed to be a friend of the couple’s children and, more important, the son of Sidney Poitier. Guare’s tale – based on an actual event – feels more relevant at a time when our culture is hopelessly addicted to money and all things celebrity. The unexpected visitor seduces everyone in his orbit, becomes a good luck charm, and forces others to consider their own values, beliefs, and self-worth.

The wild tale includes a male prostitute who shows up overnight – be warned, this brief turn is performed stark raving naked – the realization that another couple has had a similar experience with the same intruder, and a bunch of very angry college-aged children. “Six Degrees of Separation” – yes, long before Kevin Bacon, this is where the phrase originated – is a rollicking ninety minutes and not for the tame of heart. The show has had some trouble selling tickets and is in a limited run, but it is recommended for Guare’s sharp, insightful taking down of the gullibility of the P.C. left.

And for some truly excellent performances. Allison Janney (snubbed by the Tony committee) is spot-on perfect with every expression and droll delivery. John Benjamin Hickey is equally fine as her rather flustered art-dealer husband. The strongest performance comes from Corey Hawkins as the would-be son of filmdom’s breakout actor of color. Hawkins was nominated, deservedly, for best actor and it is a magnetic turn.

“Six Degrees” now seems to be more forgiving of this character, who claims “imagination is the passport we create to take us into the real world.” The physical symbol most prominent in this production is a large double-sided painting by Kandinsky. That pretty much describes not only the great pretender, who fooled a lot of smart and privileged folks, but how many in the audience likely feel at different times.


The cast of “Six Degrees of Separation” includes Allison Janney, John Benjamin Hickey, and Corey Hawkins. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Six Degrees of Separation” runs at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre (243 W. 47th Street) through July 16, 2017. For more information, including the creative team, performance schedule, and to purchase tickets, please visit Tickets can also be purchased by calling 212-239-6200. The running time 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, June 1, 2017