I’ve seen a lot of funny plays, but I don’t remember laughing as much as I did while watching the American premiere of Richard Bean’s The Nap since well, his last Broadway outing One Man, Two Guvnors. Which, despite the fact that I’m not usually a fan of slapstick British humor, I saw twice. I think I like The Nap even better – it’s sophisticated, adult humor that doesn’t rely on pratfalls or banana peel physicality to get laughs.
But don’t get the wrong idea – we’re not talking the height of intellectualism. It’s a play about snooker – a British pool/billiards type game but played on a larger table and without striped balls. And it’s populated by a decidedly odd bunch of characters. There’s rising young working-class professional snooker player Dylan Spokes (Ben Schnetzer) whose father Bobby (John Ellison Conlee) taught him everything he knows. And financed the snooker shed in the back garden by dealing drugs and furnished it with a snooker table stolen from a Catholic Center. The very first lines in the play are between father and son:
Bobby: Do you want a shrimp sandwich?
Dylan: I don’t eat anything with a brain, do I?
Bobby: They’re shrimps, they’re not novelists.
Dylan and Bobby are not only not on the same page, they’re not in the same book. Bobby is a somewhat reformed ex con and ex drug dealer now letting out rooms in his house to get by. Dylan clawed his way out of bleak beginnings through the game of snooker and clings to its lifeline like a drowning man. It is the air he breathes, it’s his religion. At one point he says, “I am a fish and snooker is my sea.”
However honorable Dylan’s intentions and desires may be, he’s surrounded by family and business associates who all have their own agendas. He gets a visit from Mohammed Butt (Bhavesh Patel) an Integrity Officer for the International Centre for Sport Security, and Eleanor Lavery (Heather Lind), a policewoman. The Gambling Commission algorithms have detected a spike of activity in Hong Kong and the UK during his match the previous week in Brussels – all placed on the first frame for him to lose and they suspect him of being involved.
His mother Stella (Johanna Day) is an alcoholic and grifter who has hooked up with Danny (Thomas Jay Ryan) another alcoholic and grifter like herself. Stella works for Waxy Bush (Alexandra Billings), a transgender gangster who has bankrolled Dylan’s career for a percentage of his so-far meager earnings. Waxy is also word challenged. Her conversation is liberally laced with malapropisms like when she is asked if she’s alright she responds, “Nothing wrong with me, though I do have a peanut analogy.”
Stella, who was late on her rent, sold Waxy information that Dylan was going to purposely tank the first frame of his last match according to his father Bobby, who is his coach. Waxy, thinking she’d make some of her money back, sold that information on to some Filipino gangsters, and placed significant bets herself, thinking to make back the money she’d spent on Dylan so far. But Dylan knows nothing about any of this – he only knows he plays to win. Can he come out of this situation with his soul – and his skin – intact?
There are clever plot twists that I have to admit I didn’t see coming – and I’m an avid mystery reader who can usually spot the plot. And, some innovative staging and casting. Tony award-winning director Daniel Sullivan keeps the pace up and the focus sharp, which can be challenging when you have a wonderful comedic cast of characters, and a script that loves to veer off into little side bits like trying to remember the name of a Cher movie. David Rockwell’s moving sets are terrific, especially the World Championship set. Real live actual snooker is played and there are cameras set up so that the audience sees the table projected onto screens as if they were watching on television – just much larger.
Which brings me to Ben Schnetzer, who not only does a bang-up job as the earnest and determined young Dylan, contends with a Yorkshire accent brilliantly, but also plays a mean game of snooker! Cast as his opponents Abdul Fattah and Baghawi Quereshi is the 2018 United States National Snooker Champion Ahmed Aly Elsayed. They play real games against each other quite credibly, and according to the press release, the ending can go either way! It’s quite exciting to watch, knowing that. And the voice-over commentary by Max Gordon Moore and Thomas Jay Ryan is absolutely hysterical. And frankly, Schnetzer is extremely easy to watch no matter what he’s doing. Ladies, do I make myself clear?
(Photo by Joan Marcus)
What the popular press says...
"When you’re feeling burned-out, fed-up and generally disgusted — like now, maybe? — there’s nothing more therapeutic than a tickling session at the theater. Relax, it involves no squirmy physical contact. I mean the sort of tickling administered by a team of master farceurs who frisk you into a state of sustained laughter, as involuntary and contented as the purr of a kitten at play. It’s the noise being artfully coaxed from audiences by the British dramatist Richard Bean and a precision-tooled ensemble of great pretenders at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"A sprinkling of cute one-liners and two live snooker sequences in the second act—with improvised commentary—provide moments of relief from the forced plotting and even more forced romance, which converge in an inane finale. Can the current mania for British imports please take a pause? Not every play is meant to travel."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York
"Little surprises lead up to a very big one in Richard Bean’s new comedy The Nap... This review won’t disclose the Big Reveal, which is right up there with the one in David Mamet’s House of Games. However, it’s the many little surprises of the first act that most intrigue and delight."
Robert Hofler for The Wrap
"It's a testimony to the cheeky humor and ingenious plotting of this 2016 play that it remains agreeable entertainment despite less-than-ideal handling. The frequently hilarious one-liners help."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter
"Even with some deft explaining, Yank audiences may still be behind the eight ball — wait, there’s no eight ball — in this Brit-centric, billiard-like game that’s at the heart of the play. But they’re sure to revel in Bean’s eccentric characters and daft dialogue even as they raise their eyebrows over the plot — and plot twists."
Frank Rizzo for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...