By Melissa Rose Bernardo
April 25, 2017 at 09:00 PM EDT
Meredith has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Meredith may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links.
Joan Marcus

If there’s one thing to be learned from the beautifully unsettling Broadway revival of Six Degrees of Separation it’s this: There’s no expiration date on a Cats joke. Nearly 30 years after John Guare’s drama premiered, the most absurd (and absurdly funny) thread isn’t that a clutch of wealthy Manhattanites were hoodwinked by a sweet-talking stranger claiming to be Sidney Poitier’s son; it’s that he promised them all parts in the movie version of Cats — and they were thrilled.

“You went to Cats. You said it was an all-time low in a lifetime of theater-going,” spits Tess (Colby Minifie) accusingly to her parents, Louisa, aka Ouisa (seven-time Emmy winner Allison Janney, absolutely sublime) and Flanders, aka Flan (The Normal Heart Tony winner John Benjamin Hickey). “Film is a different medium,” Ouisa sighs.

As for the rest of Guare’s delicious social satire, it’s aged nearly as well as the Cats quips — far better than you’d expect, considering that the title phrase is now firmly entrenched in our vernacular. “I am bound to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people,” says Ouisa. “It’s a profound thought.” (Side note: Does anyone still play the resultant pop-culture parlor game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”?)

The way that Ouisa and Flan — and their friends — get fooled by Paul (Straight Outta Compton’s Corey Hawkins, appropriately mysterious), the faux Poitier, provides plenty of comic fodder: a face-off with a hyperactive naked hustler; the appearance of assorted sullen, rancorous college-age children (sample insult: “Dad, sometimes it is so obvious to me why Mom left”); the suspicious delivery of a pot of jam.

But there’s plenty of profundity as well. In the span of 90 minutes, Ouisa goes from talking about touring South Africa to see super-poor people to promising Paul that she’ll take him under her wing, teach him, and love him. She’s no longer content with her high-stakes art-dealer husband. On the outside, she is polished and buffed and shined to perfection — not a hair out of place in that shellacked East Side matron bob; but inside, she’s “a collage of unaccounted-for brush strokes.” In an argument with Flan, she asks him this question — one that I suspect Guare wants us all to ask ourselves: “How much of your life can you account for?” Three days later, I still don’t have my answer. A-