Review: Six Degrees of Separation at Ethel Barrymore Theatre

By Jonathan Spira on 12 May 2017
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Paul Poitier, meet Frank Abagnale Jr. of “Catch Me If You Can.” You owe him a small debt of gratitude in your masterful series of scams.

Not to be left out is 19-year-old David Hampton, whose story is the basis for “Six Degrees of Separation” and who, in the 1980s, infamously posed as Sidney Poitier’s son, calling himself David Poitier. Armed with a stolen address book containing the names of well-off New Yorkers, he claimed to be a school friend of their offspring and that he had been mugged, with his money and college thesis stolen. He needed a place to stay until his father arrived the following morning at the Pierre. Multiple couples invited David into their homes, where he dined with them, impressed them with his savoir-faire, and spent the night.

John Gaure’s brilliant “Six Degrees of Separation” builds on the idea that all people in the world are six or fewer steps away from each other, an idea introduced by the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinty in 1929. In it the world of private art dealer Flan Kittredge (John Benjamin Hickey) and his wife, Ouisa (played masterfully by Allison Janney), is about to crumble when Paul Poitier (played with soul-searching sensitivity by Corey Hawkins) arrives at their door, claiming to having been mugged, his money and college thesis stolen.


The forceful play is a time capsule of New York in the 1990s, a time of no iPhones to reach the college kids with, no Google to check out people’s stories, and no Facebook.

While Ouisa, speaking to the audience, explains what “six degrees” means, Paul is unquestionably a master exploiter of the theory.

Paul Poitier, it turns out, has something in common with Sherry Whiteside, “The Man Who Came to Dinner.” Indeed, even after Paul leaves his unsuspecting victims’ homes, they can’t get rid of him. He appears in the Kittredges’ dreams and calls regularly.

Like Peter Pan, he exists in the imagination of others and lives his life in his own.

“I believe that imagination is the passport we create to take us into the real world. I believe the imagination is another phrase for what is most uniquely us.” he proclaims.


Six Degrees of Separation
Ethel Barrymore Theatre
243 W. 47th St.
New York, N.Y. 10038
Runtime: 1 hr. and 30 min.

(Photos: Accura Media Group)

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