How, one wondered, would British playwright Richard Bean, whose hilarious farce One Man, Two Guvnors made a star out of James Corden, create something as funny for Americans out of the British game of snooker?
He hasn’t, as it turns out. No, “The Nap,” Bean’s sophomore effort on Broadway, is not as soporific as its title suggests. It’s worse than that. The title actually has nothing to do with sleep; a nap is a term in snooker (which is the British version of pool) used for the coarse, fuzzy green surface of the snooker table. And The Nap is indeed coarse and fuzzy.
More production photographs at NewYorkTheater.me
Dylan Spokes (Ben Schnetzer) is a young new star on the snooker circuit. He has returned to his hometown of Sheffield, which is where this year’s world snooker championship tournament will be held. Dylan is a vegetarian, honest and upright, which is a surprise considering the people who surround him. Initially, the playwright seems to be lining up his colorful characters like so many colored snooker balls, and taking pot shots. There’s Bobby, Dylan’s Dad (John Ellison Conlee), who was an amateur snooker player before he became a drug dealer and bank robber, and, now that he’s reformed, still loves the sport. There’s Stella, Dylan’s Mum (Johanna Day), a drunk and an apparent floozy, who drags along her latest beau, Danny (Thomas Jay Ryan), who makes his living taking driver’s tests for incompetent drivers, and whose overriding characteristic is that he smells. There’s Dylan’s agent Tony (Max Gordon Moore) who dresses in different loud monochromatic suits, and is always speaking on his cell phone, handing out his business cards and hugging.
Mo and Eleanor (Bhavesh Patel and Heather Lind), a snooker tournament official and a police officer, arrive at the snooker room where Dylan is practicing to warn him against participating in any match fixing. That’s the cue to kick off the plot, which involves a gangster. The gangster is a trans woman named Waxy Bush (portrayed by trans actress Alexandra Billings, best known from “Transparent”), whose distinguishing features include a bum hand draped in black silk, and a penchant for malapropism: “I live in hope; I am nothing if not an optometrist.”
Waxy, who has been investing in Dylan’s career, pressures him to “tank a frame” – throw a game – in order to make a pile of money by betting against him.
Waxy means business; in the last scene of Act I, she has kidnapped Stella and Danny, to force Dylan to violate his integrity.
I’ve seen some of these actors do stellar work in other plays (Johanna Day, for example, was terrific in Sweat.) Schnetzer and Billings are making memorable Broadway debuts. But the acting starts to seem almost irrelevant, and David Rockwell’s clever set design, in which one scene rapidly transforms into the next, can’t make up for the way the play transforms.
It would not be proper to tell you what happens after intermission, other than to say that an
awkward romance develops between Eleanor and Dylan, and that there’s a radical twist in the plot that changes everything. The result: What was mildly diverting in Act I is smothered by the machinations — and snooker-playing!– of Act II.
The one thing that might have redeemed “The Nap” is to have made it as laugh-out loud funny as “One Man Two Guvnors.”
There is, I must admit, some real wit in “The Nap” (presuming you can cut through the density of the accents, which the American cast renders with varying degrees of success through the assistance of a dialect coach.) I laughed at the very first exchange in the play, when Bobby offers a shrimp sandwich to Dylan his vegetarian son:
Dylan: I don’t eat anything with a brain, do I?
Bobby: They’re shrimps, they’re not novelists.
An hour later, I didn’t laugh at another of their exchanges:
Dylan: Do you have any beer?
Bobby: Does Dolly Parton sleep on her back?
For every joke that lands, two don’t – because they’re too silly, or unfathomable, or hackneyed or offensive…in short, in some way unfunny. For every subtle or clever bit of wordplay (Bobby and Dylan?), there is something strained or crude (Waxy Bush; Mo’s full name is Mohammad Butt.)
There are a slew of routines and running gags, some of which – such as that Bobby is bad at arithmetic — feel as funny as a friend with an annoying habit.
Humor of course is subjective. I too often felt subjected to “The Nap.”
The Nap is on stage at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theater (261 W 47th Street, east of Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10036) through November 11, 2018.
The Nap. Written by Richard Bean; Directed by Daniel Sullivan. Scenic design by David Rockwell, costume design by Kaye Voyce, lighting design by Justin Townsend,
Original music and sound design by Lindsay Jones, dialect coach Ben Furey. Featuring Alexandra Billings, John Ellison Conlee, Johanna Day, Ahmed Aly Elsayed, Ethan Hova, Heather Lind, Max Gordon Moore, Bhavesh Patel, Thomas Jay Ryan and Ben Schnetzer.