“Six Degrees of Separation” plays at the Barrymore Theatre through July 16. 243 W. 47th St., sixdegreesbroadway.com.
Any doubt that John Guare’s 1990 sharp-edged comedic drama “Six Degrees of Separation” is one of the finest contemporary American plays should be put to rest by the terrific new Broadway revival starring Allison Janney (“The West Wing”), John Benjamin Hickey (“The Normal Heart”) and Corey Hawkins (“Straight Outta Compton”).
The play (which was adapted into a 1993 film with Will Smith) popularized the idea that everyone in the world is connected by just a handful of people (i.e. “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”). But it also displays a class-based society, where an Upper East Side penthouse is a world away from a homeless youth sleeping in Central Park — though not necessarily impenetrable.
Ouisa (Janney) and Flan (Hickey), a rich, middle-aged and well-intentioned Manhattan couple, have their lives shaken by the unexpected visit of Paul (Hawkins), a smart and polite black teen who claims to be their children’s college pal and the son of actor Sidney Poitier.
After an unforgettable evening in which Ouisa and Flan are left star-struck and giddy (after all, Paul promised that they can be extras in his father’s upcoming film version of the musical “Cats”), they find Paul in bed with a male prostitute and kick him out.
They then learn that Sidney Poitier has no son and that Paul is a con artist who has pulled the same stunt with their friends, who also prefer this mysterious and seductive stranger to their whiny and self-centered children.
Paul acts not out of animosity but loneliness and an unquenchable desire to become part of a seemingly fabulous world of wealth, culture and familial love. It leads to bitter consequences for him and his targets.
Trip Cullman’s dazzling production captures the play’s many qualities as a dizzying farce, a gossipy one-on-one conversation, an attention-grabbing lecture, a drama about personal connection and a disturbing portrait of economic inequality and racial division.
Hawkins gives a stunning performance that captures Paul’s dualities: refined and knowledgeable on the outside, wild and sexy underneath. Janney is hilarious, with priceless reactions to the craziness around her, while Hickey clearly embodies the sense of insecurity that leads to being completely won over by Paul’s showmanship, charm and flattery.