‘Six Degrees of Separation’: ‘Elegant’ production features ‘magnetic’ performances from Allison Janney, John Benjamin Hickey, Corey Hawkins

Tony-winner John Guare’s (“Two Gentleman of Verona”) acclaimed play “Six Degrees of Separation,” a finalist for the 1991 Pulitzer Prize, has returned to Broadway, opening at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on April 25. The show centers on married New York City socialites Flan (John Benjamin Hickey) and Ouisa (Allison Janney), whose fragile sense of self worth shatters one evening when a bloodied stranger and con artist claiming to be Sidney Poitier’s son Paul (Corey Hawkins) and a college friend of the couple’s children shows up bloodied on their Central Park doorstep.

The original production, which opened in late 1990, earned four Tony Award nominations, including Best Play, Best Actor in a Play (Courtney B. Vance), and Best Actress in a Play (Stockard Channing), winning Best Direction of a Play for Jerry Zaks, who’s poised for another Tony nomination this year for his directorial work on the revival of “Hello, Dolly!”.

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Director Trip Cullman’s new mounting of “Six Degrees of Separation” received mixed-to-positive reviews from critics. Joe Dziemianowicz (New York Daily News) raves about the “energizing,” “crazy good revival” that features a “crack ensemble of Broadway vets and newcomers” with three leads who “shine,” praising the “thoroughly convincing and and seductive” Hawkins, Janney, who “goes from above-it-all to something deeper,” and Hickey, who “brings an air of ease and restlessness,” to his character. Ben Brantley (New York Times) similarly praises Hawkins for his “tremulous, searching sensitivity” that “transforms a fatally mixed-up character into something close to a tragic hero,” also applauding the “estimable” Janney and Hickey. Overall, though, he deems this mounting a “less than ideal production” of a “beautiful play,” in large part because the farcical elements “have been heightened here at the expense of poignancy… a tone that screeches as the play becomes darker.”

Marilyn Stasio (Variety) seems to arrive at an altogether different conclusion, even though she too gives the revival a mixed review, writing that this “elegant” production “lacks the comic bite of the original production,” but similarly commends the “incomparable,” “uncommonly sensitive” Janney for her “wicked, smart delivery” and “vitalizing presence” as well as the “magnetic” Hawkins, who’s “a total charmer who effortlessly inhabits Paul’s preppy persona.” Jesse Green (Vulture) also praises the performers, applauding the “spectacular” Janney’s “superlative comic performance,” the “finely balanced performance” from Hawkins, and the “smart and convincing” Hickey, although he notes that the potency of the play has been “softened by time and by a production… that gets a few things wrong.”

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Based on the overall positive response from critics, “Six Degrees of Separation” will likely be nominated in the Best Revival category. Its central trio of thespians all have strong chances at nominations, too. Of the three, Hickey appears the most vulnerable. Despite his previous Tony win for the recent revival of “The Normal Heart,” he will be competing in the same category as co-star Hawkins, who received far more effusive notices. Unless the producers petition the Tony nominating committee to consider one of them Featured, expect Hawkins to earn a nomination for Best Actor in a Play, with Hickey potentially missing out. Despite an incredibly competitive line up this season, Janney looks like a sure-fire nominee in the Best Actress race.

“Six Degrees” stands on shakier ground in many of the other Play categories. Despite the favorable reaction to his work, Cullman may have difficulty breaking into the Best Director category, not only because the category has only five slots for directors of both new plays and revivals, but also because Cullman will compete against himself for his work on new play “Significant Other,” which just shuttered on April 23.

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In the design categories, costume designer Clint Ramos, who Brantley complimented for his “expensively tasteful” costumes for this revival, could very likely return to compete for a second consecutive win in the category after taking home his first Tony last year for “Eclipsed.” Two-time Tony nominee Mark Wendland (“The Merchant of Venice,” “Next to Normal”) may also contend in the Scenic Design category for what Green praised as a “beautiful, scary set.” Lighting designer Ben Stanton could also earn a bid for his third consecutive year, previously contending in 2015 for “Fun Home” and last year for the revival of “Spring Awakening.”

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