John Guare's 1990 play flares back into blistering life at the Barrymore Theatre
What starts out as a farce dissolves into a drama of the self. While aspects of Six Degrees of Separation have now dated it and made it a period piece (this would be a radically different play in the internet age), its probing questions in to identity, fraud, and interpersonal connections allow it to maintain its relevance. In this Broadway revival of John Guare's highly influential play we see wealthy New Yorkers being lead asunder by a brilliant young man with an elusive backstory. Allison Janney heads up the show's excellent cast.
Ouisa and Flan Kittredge (Allison Janney and John Benjamin Hickey) are art dealers living the Manhattan high-life. They are on the verge of the biggest deal of their lives. However, their evening's plan to acquire investment money from South African tycoon Geoffrey (Michael Siberry) is interrupted by the arrival of Paul (Corey Hawkins), who has been stabbed and needs help. He claims to be a friend of their children, and recites intimate details of their lives. They help him, and he turns out to be the lynch pin in securing their investment, but... he is not the son of Sidney Poitier he claims to be. He disappears eventfully the following morning, in a flurry of near violence and nudity. As they try and track him down the story gets more and more ridiculous. He appears to have conned several families… and yet stolen nothing. As the Kittredges try harder and harder to find him, via their children and the police, the story takes on a darker and darker bent. All the while, it is difficult to tell if Paul is the sort of person they want put in jail, or welcome in to the family…
L-R: Lisa Emery, Ned Eisenberg, Cody Kostro, Keenan Jolliff, John Benjamin Hickey, Allison Janney, Ned Riseley, Colby Minifie, and Michael CountrymanPhoto by Joan Marcus
Janney is the big name attached to this production, and she brings all the class and hilarity we have come to expect from her. Her performance as Ouisa is alternately comprised of effortless breezes of comic brilliance, and aggressively thoughtful moments of introspection. Occasionally both at the same time. The strength of this play comes from the writing. It's easy to see why Guare's work was nominated for a Pulitzer. Corey Hawkins interpretation of the role of Paul is nothing short of spectacular. He is at once charming, ephemeral, and yet deeply damaged as the false Poitier. John Benjamin Hickey is high strung and effusive, barreling through the script with magical aplomb. The core cast here are all excellent.
Outside of the cast's central trio, the players are uniformly brilliant. Colby Minifie (as the daughter Kittredge) demonstrates a knack for taking shrieking hysterics to new heights of art. Michael Siberry is a charming South African curmudgeon. Peter Mark Kendall as Rick transitions from lovable schlub to beaten puppy in a matter of minutes. Sarah Mezzanotte (Elizabeth) is a picture of idealism and hurt opposite Kendall, and her fall from grace is heartbreaking, signaling the distinct shift in the play's tone efficaciously.
Also worth noting regarding that atmospheric shift is the work of the scenic and lighting department. Director Trip Cullman has not only worked his cast into a delightful frenzy, he has cultivated a crystal clear semiotic system for the play. In its initial phases, Mark Wendland's sets are warm, if aloof, supporting the ruse that this play is a straight laughing comedy. However, as the play evolves into a more complex entity, the expensive and expansive living room set simply lists off to one side, revealing a brick back wall. Ben Stanton's lighting too is crucial in this shift of mood. As the play becomes more darkly emotive, we move from warm reds to pale blues. From bright, even spreads, to moody shadows. Spotlights that only served to highlight actors before, now seem to isolate them, speaking to the separation in the play's title.
L-R: Corey Hawkins, Allison Janney and John Benjamin HickeyPhoto by Joan Marcus
Taken as a revival, this is a brilliant piece of theatre. Taken as a piece in its own right there is one pressing issue. That of the children in the play. To call it a flaw in the script is to be unkind to an undeniably brilliant work of stage writing, but it does have to be acknowledged that Guare's attitude to the children of his protagonists becomes problematic as they play wears on. In a farcical mode, it is charming and silly to see the ridiculously pronounced disconnect between rich upper class parents and their spoiled children. However, as the play moves on, and speaks more to emotional connectivity and a need for closeness, the continued dismissal of those parental bonds now seems either worryingly cavalier, or ominously unaddressed. It is not enough to ruin the experience, but it is the only notable blemish on this otherwise superb production.
The amount of good plays on Broadway currently really does feel like a treat. Between Little Foxes, Present Laughter, Oslo, Doll's House Part Two, and Six Degrees of Separation, there is actual choice in quality non-musical entertainment. Amongst that, Six Degrees is likely the most New York choice. It's a fast paced comedy with a strong streak of social commentary; adroit references to famous actors, artists, and social mores abound; and the cast are all excellent stage performers… it is a delectable NYC dish. Recommended to the discerning theatre-goer.
The quarterback said "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country." And then he tried to apologize. And only made it worse.
Drew Brees, a man who makes literally millions of dollars for throwing a ball, has come under fire for insensitive comments he made about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality.
"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees said in the interview with Yahoo Finance. He clarified that this was in part because he envisioned his grandfathers, who fought in World War II, during the National Anthem. He continued, saying, "And is everything right with our country right now? No. It's not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together. We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution."
This isn't the first time Brees made it clear that he cares more for the idea of a make-believe unified America than he does for actual human lives. In 2016, he criticized Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the anthem, saying it was "disrespectful to the American flag" and "an oxymoron" because the flag gave critics the right to speak out in the first place.
Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest of racist police brutality
Of course, the flag's alleged ideals have been proven to only be applicable to wealthy, white men—men like Brees. Sure, his grandfathers did a noble thing when they fought under the US flag during WWII, and no one, including Kaepernick, has ever said that sacrifice isn't worth respecting. Thanks to the sacrifices of many people (including the enslaved Black backs upon which this country was built, including the scores of routinely abused Black soldiers who fought for American lives), America has offered opportunity and peace for many, many people. In particular, Ole' Glory has been very kind to men like Brees: rich, white men who still control the majority of the power and the wealth in the United States.
But what about the rest of us, Drew? What about George Floyd whose neck was crushed by a police officer who kneeled on him so casually that he didn't even take his hand out of his pocket? What about Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot for the crime of being Black and going for a jog? What about Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was murdered by police in her home in the middle of the night for a crime that had nothing to do with her? What about Tony McDade, Drew–have you heard his name? Have you heard about the 38-year-old Black trans man who was gunned down in Florida last week? Do you understand why these people's family's may harbor just a bit of disrespect for your precious flag?
Is it possible for you to realize, Drew, that your wish for "unity" is not a wish for progress, but a wish to maintain the status quo? When you call for unity under the American flag, you're talking about your flag, the flag that represents a long, sordid history of racial oppression and violence. There is no unity where there is no justice. When you say that "we are all in this together," what you're saying is that we all have roles to play in the version of society that has served you so well. For your part, you'll be a rich, white man, and for Black people's part, they'll continue to be victims of state-sanctioned murders– but hopefully more quietly, hopefully in a manner that doesn't make you uncomfortable?
When you say, "We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution," what you mean to say is that POC and their allies are at fault. Sure, you probably agree that Derek Chauvin took it a bit too far, and you probably feel a little self-conscious that he's brought all this "Black rights" stuff up again. But when you say "all," you place blame on the victims who are dying under a broken system. And what, exactly, do you expect POC to do differently, Drew? Ahmaud Arbery was just out jogging, and still he died. George Floyd was just trying to pay a cashier, and still he died. POC and their allies try to peacefully protest by marching in the streets or taking a knee at a football game, and still white people condemn and criticize. Still the police shoot.
After much criticism, Brees did attempt an apology on Instagram, where he posted a hilariously corny stock photo of a Black and white hand clasped together. His caption, though possibly well-intentioned, made it even clearer that his understanding of the movement for Black lives is thoroughly lacking.
Highlights of the "apology" include his immediate attempt to exonerate himself from culpability, claiming that his words were misconstrued, saying of his previous statement: "Those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character." Unfortunately, Drew, white people like you are the "enemy," as you put it, because by default you are at the very least part of the problem. No one is accusing you of being an overt racist, Drew; no one thinks you actively and consciously detest Black people. But your lack of empathy, your apathy, and your unwillingness to unlearn your own biases are precisely what has persisted in the hearts and minds of well-meaning white Americans for centuries.
Next, you say, "I recognize that I am part of the solution and can be a leader for the Black community in this movement." No, Drew. Just no. Black people don't need white people's savior complexes to interfere in their organizing; what they need is for us to shut up and listen. What they need is for us to get our knees off of their necks.
Finally, you say, "I have ALWAYS been an ally, never an enemy." This, Drew, is suspiciously similar to saying, "But I'm one of the good whites!" The fact of the matter is that feeling the need to prove your allyship is not about helping a movement; it's about feeding your own ego. Not only that, but your emphasis on "ALWAYS" does a pretty good job of making it clear that you don't think you have a racist bone in your body and that you have taken great offense at any accusations to the contrary. I have some news for you, Drew: Every white person is racist. Sure, the levels vary, and while you may not be actively and consciously discriminating against POC, you have been brought up in a racist system, and your implicit biases are as strong as any other white person's. Your job now is to unlearn those biases and confront those subtle prejudices in yourself and in other white people. Maybe the first step in doing so is just shutting your f*cking mouth about kneeling at football games. Maybe you should even consider taking a knee yourself.
For other non-BIPOC trying to be better allies, check out one of these 68+ anti-racism resources.
We're glad they're on our side.
The world is up against a seemingly insurmountable threat, but luckily, we've got a crack team of heroes on the case.
Sure, there's already the girl with super strength, the guy who can fly, and the anthropomorphic, trash-talking animal tailor-made for merchandise. But this is a threat of intergalactic proportions, and we're going to need all the help we can get if we want to survive.
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