REVIEW: “The Nap”—prepare to be snookered
You’ve no doubt heard of being “snookered”—tricked, enticed, or trapped.
In making my gleeful pitch for “The Nap”, Richard Bean (“One Man, Two Guvnors”)’s new play that opened on Broadway last week in a Manhattan Theatre Club production, I kind of feel like one of those guys on 7th Avenue who stop to ask you: “do you like comedy?”.
But truly, if you do like comedy and are seeking an escape from the horror of the daily news, I dare not try to snooker you, please, just get a ticket for this hilariously funny and refreshing new play.
Now, do you know the game of Snooker? I didn’t.
Turns out, Snooker is one of the most popular and widely-watched sports in the United Kingdom. The game is a division of the cue sports, what we think of in the U.S. as billiards or pool, played on a table nearly twice the size, with 22 balls instead of 15. Using cues and, far more commonly than in pool, bridges, the object is to pocket 15 red balls, then 6 “color” balls in a specific order with increasing point value. In the British understanding, to snooker is also to corner or thwart, which is achieved when a shot becomes impossible due to the placement of the balls on the table.
While “The Nap” is set in the high-stakes, low-rent world of Snooker, you need not know all of this to enjoy the play for, as the metaphor of the title suggests (more on that later), it’s really about the testing of one’s character in the face of fame, corruption, greed, and maybe even murder!
In Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England, twenty-something Dylan Spokes (Ben Schnetzer) is a straight-shooting, fast-rising Snooker star—ranked 107th in the world in prize money—on the eve of competing in the World Championship Finals in his hometown. While practicing in the backroom of a British Legion Hall, he’s confronted by International Centre for Sport Security Integrity Officer Mohammad Butt (Bhavesh Patel) and Eleanor Lavery (Heather Lind), a former pole dancer now with the National Crime Agency, who are investigating claims of match fixing.
While the honest Dylan lives his life with “the nap”—the pile of the green wool cloth that covers a Snooker table (think of running your hand over velvet, there’s a directional nap inherent in the fabric that makes the motion smooth or rough)—he’s surrounded by a seedy world of shifty characters, including his drug-dealing ex-convict father, Bobby Spokes (John Ellison Conlee); his colorful, steak-selling mother, Stella (Johanna Day, “Sweat”) and her new, small-time forgery artist boyfriend, Danny Killeen (Thomas Jay Ryan, “Dance Nation”); a brightly suited and schmoozey-sleazy agent, Tony DanLino (Max Gordon Moore, “Indecent”); and, the coupe-de-grâce, a one-armed transgender mobster named Felicity “Waxy” Bush (Alexandra Billings, “Transparent”), who, appropriately enough, runs a chain of bikini-waxing salon as a front for her sports betting ring, and speaks in a dizzying patois of malapropisms that caused side-splitting roars of laughter at the performance I attended.
Under the precise and skillful hand of director Daniel Sullivan, this ensemble of kooky characters is superbly comical, poised, and perfectly cast—especially Ms. Billings, who is transgender herself, and makes a smashing, historic Broadway debut in this play, and Mr. Schnetzer, the straight man whose hunky vegetarian Dylan is earnest, sweet, and well-intentioned amid the escalating mania of his milieu.
Is it all pretty silly? You bet. And that is its most delicious attribute.
Before too long, Dylan finds himself enmeshed at the center of an international crime syndicate reaching to Hong Kong and the Philippines, and in love (if not lust) with Eleanor. I must not give away more, for the fun of this quirky, off-beat crime thriller comedy is found in its myriad surprises of plot and character—it’s snooker, if you will.
I will reveal, however, that the finale involves a real life game of Snooker in which a well-practiced Mr. Schnetzer competes with U.S. and Egyptian Snooker champion Ahmed Aly Elsayed in his non-speaking role as “Baghawi Quereshi”—an impressive feat of technical theatre-making. Mr. Moore and Mr. Ryan’s semi-improvised audio commentary during the two Snooker sequences of the play is comedy gold satire of the highest degree.
“The Nap” feels ripe for a film adaptation. I hope it gets one. For now, do what you can to pay a visit to this delightfully droll farce on stage. As was the case with the Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of “The Portuguese Kid” last fall, you aren’t likely to find such a high quality, well-written and performed, classic comedy on Broadway this season. And that’s worth a snooker, all right.
Bottom Line: Manhattan Theatre Club presents Richard Bean’s hilarious new comedy, “The Nap”, a high-stakes, low-rent farce set in the world of Snooker (British pool). A superbly comical, poised, and perfectly cast ensemble of kooky characters make this off-beat crime thriller comedy the kind of delightfully droll escape that only theatre can provide. Silly, yes, but that’s never been more needed than right now.
Manhattan Theatre Club
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th Street
New York, NY 10036
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (one intermission)
Opening Night: September 27, 2018
Final Performance: November 11, 2018