Six Degrees of Separation; Momsical #3

Unit set of the Kittredges' living room
My theater blitz continues: I attended the second preview of the revival of John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation on April 6th. I know that it's the second preview and thus the show is still ironing out the wrinkles, but I think this revival is well worth attending for several reasons. this is just a well-constructed, well-written, thought-provoking play and even if you've seen the movie I think a live performance is worth seeing. Some aspects of the play are dated. It sounds unlikely nowadays that an art dealer can really own a Fifth Avenue apartment, and the characterization of the Ivy League Kids is overly broad. But the play still makes us think about uncomfortable issues of race, class, identity, and, for lack of a better word, how much of the "liberal" New York population is really so that rich upper class Manhattan Brahmins can feel less guilty for being, well, filthy rich. The Cats jokes are appropriate as there is currently a Cats revival on Broadway.

David Hampton
Another reason is that since 1991, we have found out more about the con-artist that inspired this play: David Hampton died of AIDS in 2003. He really did con a bunch of rich New Yorkers into thinking that he was Sidney Poitier's non-existent son. Hampton continued to hustle and con even after his release from prison and the publication of the play. In the play "Paul" (Corey Hawkins) is a vague, shadowy character whose motives and background are never explained. Hampton appears to have been a much more sinister figure.

The revival is directed by Trip Cullman and is generally well-cast. Allison Janney's Ouisa is wonderful -- she's funny, admirable and pathetic all at once. Janney is also the best at making some of the more portentous parts of the play read naturally. John Benjamin Hickey's Flan was appropriately nebbish. The Kids (Colby Minifie as Tess, Keenan Jolliff as Woody, Ned Riseley as Ben) were funny but overly broad in their characterization. They also need to stop shouting/screeching their lines -- they were really eardrum-piercing.  James Cusati-Moyer as the Hustler looked nice even in the Full Monty. Peter Mark Kendall (Rick) and Sarah Mezzanotte (Elizabeth) as the young couple Paul REALLY fleeces had brief roles but were very touching.

Paul and his marks, photo @ Joan Marcus

If there's a weak link to the revival it's Corey Hawkins' Paul. Maybe he will grow as the previews progress but right now he comes across as one note -- too overtly glib, his contempt for his marks apparent throughout. Most master con artists are more subtle, and use a disarming sense of humor and humility rather than the hard-sell and swagger. (Then again Donald Trump did get elected so ...) Also, a big theme of the play is that Paul and Ouisa form a genuine if odd bond. The long phone call towards the end of the play is supposed to illustrate this. I didn't see that bond last night. Paul still came across as a desperate hustler, and as a result the finale had a somewhat muted impact.

But as I said it's only the second preview and I'm sure the production will gel more in time. But as of now, tickets can be obtained for low prices at several discount sites and this is a good revival of a good play.

James Barbour
Today I saw "momsical" #3 -- Phantom of the Opera. I had tried to maneuver my mom into seeing Hello Dolly! but no dice -- my mom decided she'd rather see Phantom, so crashing chandeliers it was. There's not much I can add to Phantom that hasn't already been said so I'll just include a couple of Mom's nuggets:

Mom: "That Christine is so annoying. She knows he's a stalker and still bothers him. Why does she keep pulling off his mask? It's rude. Doesn't she have parents?"

Me: "Her dad is dead."

Mom: "She has a mother though doesn't she?"

Me: "She also kissed him at the end."

Mom: "Yeah but I can understand that. She kissed him so she could get rid of him."

Me: "Did you like this better or Cats?"

Mom: "I liked Cats better. I thought it had a better storyline. The story here is hard to follow with all the scene changes. Like one minute they're in a cemetery and the next everyone is in an opera singing."

Me: "Did you like this at all?"

Mom: "I liked the music. I didn't like Christine's (Ali Ewoldt) voice. But the stalker (she's referring to James Barbour, who plays the Phantom) has a really good voice."

Later on the train home she pulled out her smartphone and tapped me. "Oh no. James Barbour is a sex offender."


  1. Even worse: James Barbour is apparently a Scientologist!


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