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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
The Nap was commissioned and first produced by the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield which hosts the World Snooker Championship. And its success in Sheffield has now brought it to our shores, but with an American cast and creative team.
Such locally cast transfers of very British plays are risky propositions, which seems even more the case given The Nap's oddball subject. But if anyone can entertainingly heighten our understanding and appreciation of snooker, Mr. Bean is the man. Like Michael Frain, he has a well-earned reputation as one of Great Britain's best serious as well as comic playwrights. And Manhattan Theatre Club can be counted on to support their productions with a top drawer cast and creative team.
Both Bean and Manhattan Theatre Club have made good on both counts.
Though not quite on a par with One Man, Two Guvors, Bean has developed a story about the world of professional snooker into a darkly entertaining crime caper.
The nominal hero of that caper is Dylan Spokes (Ben Schnetzer), rising star on the professional snooker circuit who's returned to his hometown of Sheffield for the annual World Championship match. We first meet Dylon for whom the game is like a religion in a seedy local snooker room where he's joined by his devoted dad Bobby Spokes (John Ellison Conlee), an ex-con and long-ago snooker player who taught him the fine points of the game. The father-son chat is interrupted by Mohammad Butt, Integrity Officer, International Centre for Sport Security (Bhavesh Patel) and Eleanor Lavery (Heather Lind) of the National Crime Agency who bring warnings about a match fixing scheme that turns out to be all too true and draws the principled Dylan into the underhanded doings.
To unfurl the gag and revelation stuffed plot twists Bean has created a group of colorful over-the-top characters not all of whom are exactly who they seem to be. There's Dylan's fast-talking, agent Tony DanLino(Max Gordon Moore) and his transgender sponsor Waxy Bush, (Alexandra Billings), who now wants to have the money spent furthering his snooker career immediately repaid. Adding to the escalating chaos are a group of grifters like Dylan's lowlife mum Stella Spokes (Johanna Day) and her current boyfriend Danny Killeen (Thomas Jay Ryan).
Besides the scenes that introduce us to Dylan, his dad and establish the threats to his plan to honorably play the world championship match, Bean has worked two scenes into his script that allow the audience to actually see the beleaguered hero battling it out at the snooker table. What's more, the clever Mr. Bean has managed to work in a love story.
Manhattan Theatre Club has gone all out to support the wild and wooly goings with a pitch perfect acting and crafts team and one of its top drawer directors, Daniel Sullivan. As designed by David Rockwell, scenes in a seedy snooker club, a hotel room, the living room of a country home rise and fall. The actual game playing scenes allow the audience to see the contestants playing on stage and also projected on a large screen. Everyone is dressed to hilarious perfection by costumer Kaye Voyce.
Though I know as little about snooker as most of you reading this, the MC on hand to comment on what's happening during that final match helpfully provides enough clues about the rules of the game to make it easy to follow without feeling at sea. What's more, his comments are quite amusing.
To lend authenticity and tension to the two snooker playing scenes Ahmed Aly Elsayed, who's a professional snooker player, handles the cue both times— as the player we see Dylan defeat and as Baghawi Quereshi, his opponent in the final match. Schnetzer, who's making a laudable Broadway debut as Dylan Hdeserves a special bravo for mastering the game enough to creditably handle the few sequences in which he too has to get off some shots. The fact that both Schnetzer and Elsayed must actually score to fit the story makes for a genuinely exciting and unpredictable finale.
Undoubtedly Bean's funniest character is the villainess Waxy Bush who was Stella Spokes's boyfriend when she was still the gangster Mickey Bush. For fans of Transparent, the chance to see Alexandra Billings, one of the first openly transgender women to play a transgender character on television, make her Broadway debut as Waxy will be reason enough to see The Nap..
The malaprop prone Waxy ("nothing wrong with me, though I do have a peanut analogy". . ."I don't like reading. It's in one eye, and out the other". . ."I don't like reading. It's in one eye, and out the I am nothing if not an optometrist") hasn't given up her gansterish ways since transgendering from her previous life as Mickey Bush. Like Christopher Walken's Carmichael in Martin McDonagh's Behanding at Spokane, Waxy has an artificial hand that she's not happy about. In fact the whole sex change has disappointed her ("I wanted to be an attractive young woman, not this. I became a woman just in time for a hysterectomy"). And Billings makes every scene the language mangling Waxy is in a highlight.
The Nap isn't likely to have you napping even though it probably won't make it to the top of your list of really great, long remembered comedies. It's also unlikely to have American entrepreneurs rushing to open up snooker parlors — though, sad to say, there are plenty of large empty stores all around New York and its suburbs that could accommodate them. What The Nap does offer is a chance to enjoy some light-hearted silliness, and forget the more serious silliness in which our country's leaders are indulging.
P.S. In case you're wondering about the title, it refers to the directional pile that is created from the fibers on the surface of the snooker table's cloth.
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The Nap by Richard Bean
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Cast (in orde of appearance: Ben Schnetzer (Dylan Spokes, John Ellison Conlee (Bobby Spokes), Bhavesh Patel (Mohammed Buti), Heather Lind (Eleanor Lavery), Max Gordon Moore (Tony Dan Lino/MC),Johanna Day (Sheila Spokes), Thomas Jay Ryan (Danny Kileen)Alexandra Billings (Waxy Bush), Ahmed Ely Elsayed, a professional snooker player (non-speaking Abdul Fattah/ Baghawi Quereshi)
Scenic design: David Rockwell
Costume design: Kaye Voyce
Lighting design: Justin Townsend
Sound design:Lindsay Jones
Hair and make-up design: Anne Ford-Coates
Dialect coach: Ben Furey
Fight director:Thomas Schall
ProductionStage Manager: Kevin Bertolacci
Stage Manager: Janet Takami
Running Time: 2 hours plus 1 intermission MTC Samuel Friedbman Theatre 261 West 47th Street 212-239-6200
. From 9/05/18; opening 9/27/18
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 9/22 press preview
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