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Six Degrees of Separation review at Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York – ‘a stylish revival’

Allison Janney and Corey Hawkins in Six Degrees of Separation on Broadway. Photo: Joan Marcus Allison Janney and Corey Hawkins in Six Degrees of Separation on Broadway. Photo: Joan Marcus
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When John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation premiered in New York in 1990 it precisely caught a sense of urban unease in upscale New York society prevalent at the time.

The play tells the story of Flan, a sophisticated Manhattan art dealer, and his socialite wife, Ouisa, who find themselves duped by a charming and eloquent young man who claims to be a college friend of their children. He also tells them that he is Sidney Poitier’s son.

Today the lie would be quickly exposed by a Google search or a call to their kids’ mobiles. But though dated in some aspects, the play still has a shimmering allure, thanks to its Albee-esque delight in language and its vivid portrayal of their willingness to be taken in by Paul’s reflected celebrity.

Like Yasmina Reza’s Art, it is also seductive in the way it revolves around visual arts. The centrepiece here, however, is not an all-white canvas but a rotating, double-sided Kandinsky.

There are two sides to Guare’s story too. He keeps the play spinning on its axis. Trip Cullman’s new Broadway revival plays out against the boldly coloured abstract geometric designs of Mark Wendland’s set.

The sophistication of the setting is complemented by the casting of the supremely stylish stage and TV actor Allison Janney. Her performance is a lesson in perfectly manicured manners. She is well partnered by John Benjamin Hickey, as the urbane Flan. But the revelation is rising actor Corey Hawkins’ performance as the interloper Paul. He brings an innocence to character that makes his lie feel plausible.

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A perfectly constructed, palate-cleansing play given a stylish revival