The Nap, Broadway’s latest laugh from London, tries to fool us and sometimes does, though not in ways playwright Richard Bean might have intended. Teased with the appealing prospect of an evening of Martin McDonagh-lite, we’re quickly handed a cartoon con job.
No offense to Snooker fans here, there or anywhere, but a comedy built around the game’s intricacies and milieu is bound to lose some bite when rules need more set-up than jokes.
Well-reviewed in London, and with real possibility promised by a good cast (led by Ben Schnetzer, a New Yorker doing a fine Yorkshire accent), a strong director in Daniel Sullivan and a playwright with an earlier stateside gem (One Man, Two Guvnors), The Nap begins to disappoint fast.
So, some exposition of my own. Snooker is a billiards-like game, nap is the fuzzy surface of the table and the British apparently love it a lot more than Americans do. Judging by the fervor of characters in The Nap, a whole lot more. National pastime more.
In this Manhattan Theatre Club presentation at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, opening tonight, Schnetzer plays Dylan Spokes, the local boy who could make good thanks to his way with a cue and despite the baggage of a drug-dealing, good-natured, has-been dad (John Ellison Connlee) and a grasping, slovenly flamboyant alcoholic mom (Johanna Day).
As Dylan practices for a big tournament, with dad keeping him company at the British Legion snooker room – nicely rendered in David Rockwell’s sharply detailed set – a couple of “coppers” drop by, with ominous questions about game-throwing and warnings about local mobsters scouting Dylan for nefarious, gambling purposes.
Unfortunately, Dylan’s down-on-her-luck mother has sold him out already, and now he’s indebted to a gambler by the name of Waxy Bush. Waxy is a transexual woman, with a robotic arm, two things the play seems to think are funny prima facie, though just to be sure Bean pads the character (Alexandra Billings of Transparent) with that endlessly repeated double entendre name and a weird malaprop habit that has her mixing up words like “ingenious” and “indigenous.” The other characters think it’s hilarious.
Whether the righteous Dylan will throw the big game – actually played out on stage with a real Snooker champ and a very well-practiced Schnetzer – becomes a weightier question when he and we witness a very bloody execution at Waxy’s hand (robotic or otherwise). Hopes of Martin McDonagh creep back in, but are dashed entirely when a big reveal – that won’t be spoiled here – surprises us mostly by its hoariness.
Until the play really lets them down, most of the cast keeps pace with the various ruses. Schnetzer (The Goat) is an appealing actor and grounds the play even when it veers off course, and Conlee, as the kindly, blunt dad, has a sure comic technique that serves him well as he’s asked to repeat jokes time and again. You’ll lose count of how many mentions are made of Waxy Bush – not least Waxy Bush herself.