Theatre Review by Marc Miller - September 27, 2018
The Nap by Richard Bean. Directed by Daniel Sullivan. Set design by David Rockwell. Costume design by Kaye Voyce. Lighting design by Justin Townsend. Original music and sound design by Lindsay Jones. Hair and makeup design by Anne Ford-Coates. Dialect coach Ben Furey. Fight director Thomas Schall. Cast: Alexandra Billings, John Ellison Conlee, Johanna Day, Ahmed Aly Elsayed, Ethan Hova, Heather Lind, Max Gordon Moore, Bhavesh Patel, Thomas Jay Ryan, Ben Schnetzer, John Wojda.
They're grifters and lowlifes and out-and-out crooks, but they're rollicking company. The focal point is Dylan (Ben Schnetzer), the most honest of the bunch young, rapidly rising in world snooker competition, and ready to race to the top. "This game is a way for working-class lads who were shit at school to make some money," he explains, though once he earns it, it won't all be his he's surrounded by open palms. Chief among them is his dad's Bobby (John Ellison Conlee), an alcoholic ex-drug dealer reformed in practice but not in spirit. He's estranged from Dylan's mum, Stella (Johanna Day, unrecognizable from Sweat), a bleach-blonde handful always short a few quid. She enters accompanied by her boyfriend Danny (Thomas Jay Ryan), who's said to be very bright, and isn't. And she's a salon worker whose boss is the provocatively named Waxy Bush (Alexandra Billings), whose backstory is so rich it merits a sequel. When she was Mickey Bush, a small-time gangster and gambler, Mickey and Stella had a Thing; then Mickey became Felicity, better known as Waxy because it's better for business. Waxy is also Dylan's sponsor, with a ladylike exterior that masks a brutal interior, and she's responsible for more malapropisms than Mrs. Malaprop: "I live in hope, I am nothing if not an optometrist," for instance, and my favorite, "Remember your appointments and write them down, preferably in a dairy." Also with an outstretched hand: Tony (Max Gordon Moore, in a giggle-inducing parade of loud pastel suits; Kaye Voyce did the fine costumes), Dylan's manager, who gets 20 percent of everything.
Petty and not-so-petty gambling evidently pervade snooker, and that's gotten Dylan into a fix. Waxy, on a tip from Stella, bet on him to lose a recent frame; he won, which put Waxy in heavy debt to a very nasty Philippine gambling syndicate. That's drawn the attention of Mohammad (Bhavesh Patel) and Eleanor (Heather Lind), cops trying to close the Philippine mob down, and the latter spectacular enough to unnerve the usually unattached Dylan. Waxy wants Dylan to throw another match to get her money back, Mohammad and Eleanor want him to agree to do so and then play to win, and that's likely to get somebody killed.
So skulduggery, live-action snooker (the games, played by Schnetzer and Ahmed Aly Elsayed, the actual U.S. national snooker champion, are projected overhead, or maybe they're pretaped; if so, they're faked so expertly you can't tell), lower-class family dynamics resembling a British Roseanne, and extended self-contained comic set pieces, almost sketches. One twice-rendered gag, involving the ensemble trying to remember a movie title, is a riot, and will register mightily with audiences of a certain age, which is to say Manhattan Theatre Club audiences. There's also the climactic match, punctuated by commentary, some of it ad-libbed, from two offstage announcers (Moore again, and Ethan Hova), hilariously lampooning the hushed, self-important utterances of sportscasters, random trivialities masquerading as profound insights: "He's such a calm, centered lad." "Vegetarian."
Bean has a filthy-as-Mamet pen, his scenes tend not to end with the snap of a button but to just end, he's peddling intricacies of snooker that may not resonate as resoundingly in the States, and he never met an obvious joke he didn't like. That said, a lot of those obvious jokes are pretty damn funny, and he keeps you guessing. It's a shell game of a play: So many double- and triple-crosses crowd the stage that you lose count, and when you think you have the scams figured out, bam! Bean has snookered you again.
David Rockwell's sets, mostly three-sided drops, look on the tacky side, though he's provided a lovely tasteless joke on the rear wall of Waxy's living room. Justin Townsend's lighting is apt and well-timed; in downmarket British snooker parlors like Bobby's, apparently, the overheads are on timers, and you need 20 pence to relight them every 12 minutes. Lindsay Jones's generic music evaporates instantly, but his sound design helps establish the hardscrabble atmosphere.
The American cast sometimes pushes their Brit accents past the brink of intelligibility, and you wish director Daniel Sullivan had reined them in a bit. They're a convincingly blue-collar lot, though, and they sure know how to land punchlines. Billings may be the luckiest, with all those mangled bromides to flaunt, but Conlee isn't far behind, making the most of less showy material. Ryan's also a special hoot, and Schnetzer, panicky as Dylan deserves to be, provides a relative isle of calm amid the madness enveloping the stage. No masterpiece, The Nap, just a traditional, comfortable, fun, funny evening. In times like these, that's no small gift.