by Michael Bracken
The play within a play. It’s a device at least as old as Hamlet, and no stranger to Broadway comedies (Noises Off, The Play What I Wrote). And now Oh, Hello on Broadway, at the Lyceum Theatre, delivers Nick Kroll and John Mulaney’s take on the genre. You better be ready to laugh. A lot.
Writers Kroll and Mulaney also star as two self-involved, crotchety old men, Gil Faizon (Kroll) and George St. Geegland (Mulaney). Sketch comedy enthusiasts may remember both actors as these characters on the now defunct The Kroll Show on Comedy Central.
Clad in silvery grey wigs that couldn’t be less convincing, Faizon and St. Geegland start off in front of the curtain, sharing with the audience their myopic, irreverent worldview, laced with all sorts of topical references and nuggets of their personal history. . . which is exactly what they do once the curtain goes up and the play within a play begins.
In other words, there’s a fine line between the two plays. In fact, there’s really no line. George and Gil play George and Gil, just with different last names. Faizon becomes Stone and St. Geegland Reddington. They tell us Steely Dan is their favorite group. Their favorite actor is Alan Alda, whom they hold in such high regard they’re under a restraining order to keep at least a hundred feet away from him.
Each delivers a short oral resume of himself. Gil is a Tony Award viewing actor and an unlicensed doula. He has earned most of his livelihood doing voice-overs. George is a novelist, often compared to Philip Roth and to several sketches of the Riverside Park flasher. He’s the kind of a guy you’d see rifling through coats at a party.
In both plays, Gil and George have been roommates for over forty years on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Speaking of which (the Upper West Side, that is), this is not their first foray into the world of dramaturgy. Their first work, True Upper West, was inspired by the similarly titled Sam Shepard play, in particular the production in which John C. Reilly and Philip “Sy” Hoffman switched roles from night to night. Instead of switching roles, Gil and George switched medications. They also penned a version of Waiting for Godot in which Godot shows up three minutes into the play.
The set for the inner play is a large room that’s half-kitchen, half-beauty parlor, and half whatever. (We’re told the scenic elements were cobbled together from discarded Broadway sets at a warehouse in Secaucus, but the program gives scenic design credit to Scott Pask.) An outdoor stoop is placed to the side in such a way that it almost looks like part of the kitchen. Upstage are two old fashioned turquoise standing hair dryers, downstage a kitchen table.
There’s also some confusion about the lighting credit. Gil and George keep shouting to their unpaid intern Ruvi about the lights but Jake DeGroot is listed in the program. Whoever it is does a fine job. These stars want, and you better believe they get, their spotlights. Director Alex Timbers keeps things tight, an accomplishment given the seemingly rambling delivery of the elderly leads. There’s also a guest star appearance with a “too much tuna” payoff – Paul Sorvino on the night I saw the show.
While you could call Oh, Hello on Broadway sophomoric, to do so misses the point. There is a sophistication beneath its frat house mentality that keeps it sharp. Only once – a scatological sequence near the end of the show – does it go off-track, very briefly. It observes and skewers pop culture – and whatever else it can get its hands on – with laser-like precision and sets up jokes with skill and care.
Through Sunday, January 8, 2017. Lyceum Theatre (149 West 45th Street). 95 minutes with no intermission. WWW.OHHELLOBROADWAY.COM Run Time: 95 minutes, no intermission
Photo: Joan Marcus
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