By: Sandi Durell
We all know Jesse Eisenberg from his characterization as Mark Zuckerberg in the film “The Social Network.” And for those who saw his two former plays, “Asuncion” (2011) and “The Revisionist” (2013 with Vanessa Redgrave), he’s the epitome of the awkward, self-absorbed man-child so, in this case, referring to him as a jerk, is an understatement.
As Ben, he is a manic, pot-smoking weirdo, replete with facial tics and annoying social skills (or non-social skills), who derives great pleasure from making his friends (and I use that word lightly) miserable. Maybe as a twenty-something, the generation is caught up with the it’s all about me syndrome but in Ben’s case, something went desperately wrong in his development to produce this kind of lying, manipulative, narcissistic oaf. Ben is a self-loather who gives off that holier than thou attitude not realizing he’s just obnoxious.
He’s a film school dropout, living in a nice Manhattan-styled apartment, including a terrace (designed by Derek McLane), supported by his rich daddy, but found the need to take in the sweet, lovable, kind hearted Nepalese business student Kalyan (Kunal Nayyar – The Big Bang Theory), who does everything to make Ben feel better about himself. There’s a little bit of the Odd Couple in this relationship.
Kalyan loves his power-point and uses it descriptively and as explanation for situations; like with his Indian girlfriend Reshma (Annapurna Sriram), a med student who doesn’t mince words when it comes to her reactions to Ben.
Seems that one afternoon, Ben runs into a schoolmate from elementary school, Ted (Michael Zegen), who is now a spiffy-suited banker, and tells Ben he and Sarah (Erin Darke), Ben’s old flame when they were 8 years old, are getting married. This sets off the obsession Ben has had through the years about Sarah (in more ways than I will say here). His cunning mind figures out a way to get them to his apartment to break up the relationship and win her over for his own. Pretty far-fetched but his self-indulgent brain can’t conceive of that.
The dinner scene of the two couples and Ben is a priceless piece of writing, as is the scene when Ben gets Sarah alone in the apartment. Ben is the essence of a love-hate character trying to infiltrate Sarah’s heart and is balanced by the goodness of an unaware Kalyan who doesn’t realize the degree to which Ben will stoop to get sympathy and what he wants until the play’s conclusion.
Yes, this is all about Ben. However, the other characters are clearly defined and juxtaposed to give them their own distinct identities. Scott Elliott directs with a smooth hand.
It’s not difficult to have the strong reactions the audience does, amidst the laughter, as I’m sure many, including myself, would have been happy to go up on that stage and slap Ben silly. Why the play is named “The Spoils” – I don’t know. I would have called it “The Spoiler!”
The play is from The New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center on West 42nd Street, and runs 2 hours, 20 minutes with one intermission thru June 28th. 212 279-4200
Photos: Monique Carboni