Six Degrees of Separation: A Stranger Among Us

Once a con, always a con.

That’s the presumption audiences are supposed to make once a character has been established as untrustworthy and unreliable. But somehow through that basic tenet of theater, Paul (Corey Hawkins) in Six Degrees of Separation as someone so convincing and so compelling that you don’t deem him undeserving of your compassion and sensitivity. In spite of his obvious flaws, you grow to embrace him. That’s the power of this play at work.

Paul unexpectedly crashes the home belonging to rich socialites, played by Allison Janney and John Benjamin Hickey, and they’re immediately taken in by Paul’s charm. We don’t know what to make of it in the same way they don’t. We wonder what Paul is after, which is only the natural thing to consider. However, the real poignancy of the play comes through when you entertain the possibility that while Paul propels the narrative forward, it’s not a play at all about what he seeks. Whatever his motives are — we never truly find out — his impact is deeply felt by the surrounding characters, especially those who are drawn to him and his story.

Director Trip Cullman injects a sense of complexity into the lead character, and also questions about how calculated and cunning he truly is. The play surprised you as it’s less an exploration into the emptiness of the elite class of Upper East Side dwellers and more an exploration of what binds people to one another.

The underlying and evident themes are illuminated most in scenes involved the couple’s children, whom are so frustrated with their parents shortage of parenting that they explode at every opportunity. That their parents have fallen for a clear fraud, and allowed him into their home, is just the latest ruckus in what was surely a series of bad decisions they’ve made. We grow to learn most about the range and depth of these characters through flashbacks and asides apart from the story itself. Those are the surest moments of truth.

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