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John Guare’s "Six Degrees of Separation" at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre
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John Guare’s "Six Degrees of Separation" at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre

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Stuart Thompson, Louise L. Gund
et al.

Allison Janney
John Benjamin Hickey
Corey Hawkins
John Guare’s
Six Degrees of Separation
(Production Website)

Directed by Trip Cullman

At the
Ethel Barrymore Theatre
243 West 47th Street

Jim Bracchitta, Tony Carlin, Michael Countryman
James Cusati-Moyer, Ned Eisenberg, Lisa Emery
Keenan Jolliff, Peter Mark Kendall, Cody Kostro
Sarah Mezzanotte, Colby Minifie, Paul O’Brien
Chris Perfetti, Ned Riseley, Michael Siberry

Scenic Design: Mark Wendland
Costume Design: Clint Ramos
Lighting Design: Ben Stanton
Sound Design: Darron L. West
Projection Design: Lucy Mackinnon
Wig Designer: Charles G. LaPointe
Casting: Daniel Swee, CSA
Advertising: Spotco
General Management: Thompson Turner Productions
Toni Marie Davis
Company Manager: Edward Nelson
Production Stage Manager: Jill Cordle
Production Management: Aurora Productions
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 2, 2017

John Guare’s 1990 Six Degrees of Separation, now enjoying a smash revival at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, directed by Trip Cullman, leaves the audience with much to discuss and contemplate. We’re drawn in immediately, and thanks to no intermission, we live with 18 characters, and with three intimately, throughout the visit. The stunning, upscale set, an Upper East Side, Fifth Avenue apartment living room, is adorned with a Kandinsky painting, with two sides that shift with the emotional tone of the owners. Ouisa (Allison Janney) and Flan Kittredge (John Benjamin Hickey) are the owners, as Flan is a black-market art dealer, who buys and sells high end art privately and discreetly at huge profit. The play opens just after this couple has been robbed, they think, as objects are thrown about and memories are vivid from a difficult previous night. Just as Flan was about to seal a deal at home, with a wealthy South African friend, Geoffrey (Michael Siberry), for a two million-dollar investment in a Cezanne, the doorman had brought a bleeding, young African American man to the apartment. The man, Paul (Corey Hawkins), claimed he was mugged in Central Park and remembered that his Harvard friends had parents at this address. Further, Paul claimed that Sidney Poitier, his father, would arrive at a luxury hotel soon, as he would be in New York, working on a film of “Cats”. Paul had been invited to stay, his wounds having been properly cared for. But, later that night Paul was caught with an aggressive hustler (James Cusati-Moyer) in bed, and all havoc broke loose. Ouisa and Flan’s steely calm had been battered.

As we learn more about Paul, we respect his wiliness and sense of survival, but his manipulation of strangers to enter their lives and seduce them into inviting him home, to lend him large sums, and to share rolodexes and stories of college students from wealthy homes becomes horrifying. Humor, tragedy, belongingness, comfort, distress, and more, all unfold in brisk, tightly directed scenes and snippets of scenes. Another couple and a doctor are also duped by “the son of Poitier”, a detective (Paul O’Brien) is hired, and a third couple in the park are cruelly targeted for cash. In the midst of chaos, Ivy League college students scream their way home, bounce off furniture and the floor, become infuriated that their room was used by a stranger, insult their parents, and carry on in over-the-top, wild, witty, cacophonous scenes. In fact, after the curtain, audience members were heard, wondering when this play became a comedy. But there was pathos all around, as well, and the Central Park couple that Paul scammed for their savings were literally destroyed. Paul’s fate will be untold here, but he lived a life on the edge, with emotional and monetary neediness, searching for targets to feed his emptiness. In the process, he closed the gaps of six degrees of separation, the theory that each individual on the planet is separated by only six other people, in some known or unknown way.

Fine performances were seen all around, especially from Ms. Janney, Mr. Hawkins, Mr. Hickey, and Mr. Siberry. Ms. Janney offered a nuanced, layered rendering of Ouisa’s spirited, but conflicted generosity. Mr. Hawkins was impressive as the spinner of tall tales whom people long to believe and befriend. Mr. Hickey was the centered, obsessive art gambler, posing as a happy, gentrified, middle-aged parent. Mr. Siberry was the sophisticated, gracious, introspective guest. The remaining cast was a list of pros, like Tony Carlin as the doorman, and Michael Countryman and Ned Eisenberg as Larkin and Dr. Fine, two of the conned men, and Lisa Emery as Larkin’s wife, Kitty. Rick and Elizabeth, the couple in the Park, were Peter Mark Kendall and Sarah Mezzanotte, both persuasive. Trip Cullman added energy and zest to this mesmerizing revival. Mark Wendland’s 1990, Fifth Avenue living room in red and black lacquer was stunning, and Ms. Janney was stunning, as well, in Clint Ramos’ fine costume designs. I would like to see a scaled down revival of this play with just the Kittredges and Paul. It would be intense and implosive.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at