by Carol Rocamora
There’s a high-stakes game of “snooker” going on in The Nap, the hilarious new comedy on Broadway. And if you can stop laughing long enough, you’ll be on the edge of your seat.
Richard Bean, arguably one of the funniest writers alive, introduces us to the colorful snooker sub-culture of Sheffield, England, where a world championship match is about to be played. The local snooker star Dylan Spokes (Ben Schnetzer) and his down-and-out Dad (former robber and drug addict, played by John Ellison Conlee), are hanging out in a local snooker hall, where they’re visited by two wily policemen (Heather Lind and Bhavesh Patel), warning Dylan of match-fixing.
As it happens, Dylan is being asked to do just that – by his sponsor, a formidable transsexual named Waxy Bush (the flamboyant Alexandra Billings), who runs a local beauty salon (hence her adopted name). Waxy claims that Dylan has cost her too much money, and now she wants Dylan to “tank a frame” in the upcoming match so that she can bet against him and recoup her investment. The pressure is compounded by Dylan’s ditzy mother (Johanna Day) and her odorous boyfriend (Thomas Jay Ryan) – and at the end of act I, Waxy pulls a outrageous stunt that gives Dylan no choice but to comply.
In Act II, we’re treated to a full-scale match between Dylan and two different opponents, (both played by Ahmed Aly Elsayed, a snooker expert) – complete with snooker table, super screens, and riotous running commentary. It’s great live theatre, but the true delight of this caper lies in the colorful coterie of characters – fortified by Bean’s hilarious one-liners.
As Waxy Bush, Billings steals the show with her physical presence (and her menacing mechanical hand), as well as her penchant for “malapropisms.” (Examples: “I am nothing if not an optometrist” [meaning “optimist”] or “I’m ravishing” [meaning “ravenous”] or “Bobby, are you one of the alligators?” [meaning “one who has made allegations”]). Dylan’s Dad suffers from short-term memory loss, and one of the best running gags features his efforts to remember the titles of movies, engaging Dylan’s manager in a hilarious guessing game. (Max Gordon Moore is a wild man in that role, costumed in Kay Voyce’s Technicolor suits). My favorite: figuring out, at long last, that the title of a movie about grifters is – you guessed it – “The Grifters.”
The cast is uniformly excellent, and veteran director Daniel Sullivan pulls it all off with panache – both the comedy and the suspenseful match on David Rockwell’s set. It all unfolds as smoothly as the snooker tabletop that Dylan strokes at the top of the play (the “nap” refers to one side of the fabric).
As for Richard Bean, this devilish, award-winning British playwright, he should be crowned a “king of comedy” (in my view) ever since his outrageous One Man, Two Guvnors opened at the Royal National Theatre in 2011. As Waxy says at one point: “Beauty is only skin” (ba-dum). Bean should have a lot of “skin” in this wining game.
Photos: Joan Marcus
The Nap by Richard Bean, directed by Daniel Sullivan, playing at the Samuel J.
Friedman Theatre produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club