In today’s Wall Street Journal I review the new Broadway revival of Six Degrees of Separation. Here’s an excerpt.
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Not only did John Guare’s “Six Degrees of Separation” add a phrase to the English language, but it instantly became what used to be called a “water-cooler show” when it opened at Lincoln Center Theater a quarter-century ago. It’s been a long time since a play last came to town that smart Manhattanites felt similarly obliged to see, then chew over at the office the next morning. Nowadays we look to cable TV to provide us with such unifying experiences. But Mr. Guare is still around, and so is “Six Degrees,” which has just received its first Broadway revival. Directed by Trip Cullman, who mounted the play eight years ago at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre, this new production features Allison Janney in the starring role that was so memorably created in 1990 by Stockard Channing. Once again, Mr. Cullman’s staging is exemplary, but it’s the play itself that makes the deepest impression. “Six Degrees” probably won’t get talked about much at anybody’s office this time around, but those lucky enough to see the new revival will go home thinking very hard about it….
In “Six Degrees” we meet Flan Kittredge (John Benjamin Hickey), an art dealer who has sold his sensitive soul for money, and Ouisa (Ms. Janney), his scatty wife, who also loves living well but remembers what it feels like to be a human being. Their jittery existence is upended by Paul (Corey Hawkins), a smooth-talking young con man with a taste for rough trade who cozens his way into the homes of the newly near-rich by claiming to be Sidney Poitier’s son (Mr. Poitier has six daughters) and preying on the liberal guilt of people like Flan and Ouisa. “Six Degrees” is full of witty chat about the fears of such folk: “Having a rich friend is like drowning and your friend makes life boats. But the friend gets very touchy if you say one word: life boat. Well, that’s two words.” But its real strength lies in the searching clarity with which Mr. Guare portrays the deep-seated insecurity shared by Paul and the Kittredges, all three of whom are Gatsbys under the skin, self-made men and women who no longer know who they really are.
I can say no better about Ms. Janney than that her performance is as memorable in its own firmly grounded way as was that of the exquisitely fey Ms. Channing. The difference is that she fits more smoothly into Mr. Cullman’s ensemble cast. In this production, like the comparably persuasive Florida Repertory Theatre revival of “The House of Blue Leaves” that Chris Clavelli directed earlier this season, everyone acts with the high-keyed, anti-naturalistic histrionics that Mr. Guare favors, and the resulting unanimity of tone serves the play well….
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Read the whole thing here.
John Guare talks about Six Degrees of Separation: