Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - October 10, 2016
A Nick Kroll and John Mulaney production of Oh, Hello on Broadway. Directed by Alex Timbers. Scenic design by Scott Pask. Costume consultant Emily Rebholz. Lighting design by Jake Degroot. Sound design by M.L. Dogg. Nightmare effect design by Basil Twist. Movement consultant Patrick McCollum. Wig consultant Leah Loukas. Makeup by Annamarie Tendler Mulaney. Cast: Nick Kroll and John Mulaney.
And yet I loved every single second of it.
This isn't because my affection for it, Kroll, and Mulaney was kindled on the Comedy Central series Kroll Show (2013 to 2015), where this content originally debuted in short-sketch form. It's because, despite its innumerable failings, it is insanely hilarious. And, considering that it never for a moment wants to be anything else, and that everything everyone involved does with it is in pursuit of that goal and no other, it unfurls with the unshakable confidence of a no-holds-barred successand, in turn, becomes one.
How, then, to explain what happens (to the extent such a thing is even possible) without giving away the myriad delights on offer? The short, clean version, I suppose, is that George St. Geegland (Mulaney) has written a play for himself and Gil Faizon (Nick Kroll), to star in. It's a semi-autobiographical piece about the decades of friendship of these "two legendary bachelors who live on the Upper West Side," or, as George puts it, "the coffee breath of neighborhoods." It touches on their successes (their interview show, Too Much Tuna), their failures (Gil lost out on an audition that would have made him the voice of CBS, for reasons that won't shock anyone with ears), and their love of theatre, which manifests itself in everything from its embracing of tropes like one-sided phone calls and montages to nonsensical curtain lines.
For example, a written (though spoken-aloud) stage direction: "Gil's hair is like the JonBenet Ramsey case. The more you look into it, the more questions you have."
Or, Gil, upon discovering that he and his pal have been evicted. "Oh, George, I'm so depressed that we are moving out. Yoi deedle doidle dee..." George: "We can't afford the song 'Moving Out.'" Gil: That's why I yoidled it."
Or George, describing a "surrealist ballet" inserted "in hopes of winning the newly created Tony Award for choreography of a Limited Run Vanity Project, which replaces the Tony for both sound and costume design": "This dance was choreographed by an old Asian woman doing Tai Chi in Prospect Park."
How Ed Koch, a celebrity mystery guest (Paul Sorvino, baffling but endearing, at the performance I attended), Clamato, Steely Dan, and their Indian indentured servant Ruvi fit into this I probably shouldn't say. But the result is a bizarre but frequently bewitching tribute to the unique storytelling power of the theatre, with an extra emphasis on the clichés that make it work... sometimes, or maybe most of the time. I'm not sure Timbers makes it make senseI'm not sure it can make sensebut he holds it together and keeps it credible from beginning to end, which is its own golden accomplishment.
If Kroll and Mulaney don't register as anything but 30-something guys playing dress-up, what's typically a gag that would "work" only on TV does here just because the joke is so broad you can't help but be in on it. Their lack of psychological resonance or nuance works in favor George and Gil, who know no other way to live than on the surface; they end up mocking their own inappropriateness, which turns out to be way more effective than it should be.
Their twisted pronunciation of words ("scrin-writer"?). Their uncomfortably accurate and vivid interpretations of existence ('Gil has no core strength because he has what doctors call Polenta body," George says. "It all holds together, but it's very soft"). Their occasional but pointed social commentary ("Or we could go back to your dorm room at NYU and talk about gender fluidity"). The endless parade of nonsequiturs. (Don't ask me why a Fiddler on the Roof show curtain drops at one point. Please.) In writing and performance alike, it all just lands.
You may not want to like or love these two "ancient" (scare quotes included), incomprehensible idiots, but good luck avoiding it. That's theatre magic and, like it or not, Oh, Hello on Broadway is packed with it. You can find any number of better things playing in New York, but few that are an unabashedly better time. That counts for something, even if the show itself goes to the most extravagant lengths ever not to.