John Guare’s “Six Degrees Of Separation” at The Ethel Barrymore, Saturday, May 4th, 2017, Reviewed
John Guare’s “Six Degrees Of Separation,” the story of a gay, black con man who pretends to be the son of Sidney Poitier in order to…? What exactly? Change social strata? Have a place to stay for the night? Find a new family? is a pleasant enough way to kill 90 minutes at the Barrymore but if it is meant to be a serious commentary on class or celebrity hood, it fails. That doesn’t make it less than a riveting and a little sad shaggy dog story with stellar performances by the Dr. Dr of “Straight Outta Compton,” Corey Hawkins, and the UES couple he cons, Allison Janney and John Benjamin Hickey. But it isn’t more than that and since the title has become a cliché (we are all separated by no more than six people), it did once mean more.
The story doesn’t really make sense. It is the early 80s: A kid (Corey) rings the bell of a middle aged couple, an art dealer commission agent and his wife, apartment, claims to be friends of their children away at college, claims he has been mugged and has a knife wound to prove it. By the magic of theatre, they stitch him up, and when he lets slop he is Sidney Poiter’s son Paul, let him stay over, gave him fifty bucks. They wake up in the middle of the night and catch him in their daughter’s bed with another man. Paul runs away and his story unravels -apparently he has been pulling this purposeless con around the neighborhood. It only takes a moments thought, why would a kid with a knife in the stomach not be rushed to hospital, for the plot to unravel. And even given poetic license, I don’t buy the concept or the construction.
What I do buy is Guare’s dialogue, his words are snappy, smart and pleasant to the ears. Even while you are shaking your head at the silliness, you are thrilled, and the story while nominally a comedy, isn’t really funny. What we know of Paul’s history is sad on one side and tragic on the other. Corey is a terrific actor, this is the third role I’ve seen him in the past year and he can play just about anything, here is so charming that when it unravels it is doubly disappointing.
Yet as a story of upper middle class twiittiness, the couple aren’t twits and while maybe they should’ve checked his credentials a little more carefully, it hardly amounts to a condemnation. Because of the difference in times between the 80s (it was written in 1990) and the 2010s, it doesn’t quite make sense on an emotional level, did Paul’s blackness or homosexuality resonate more deeply? Why did he bring the rough trade back to the home? There was no reason. Paul was a good looking guy, why was he paying for sex?
I don’t want to but I can’t help but get stuck on the imponderables here.
Based upon a true story, in 2017, despite a fast pace and a very handsome cast ,”Six Degrees Of Separation” is an anemic, cold blooded study in irrelevance, and very entertaining.