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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Spoils

"Namaste Motherfuckers!" — Ben
The Spoils
Jesse Eisenberg as Ben and Kunal Nayyar as Kalyan (Photo: Oliver Rosser)
Although it is classed as a comedy, there is much to Jesse Eisenbeg's play The Spoils which is a tragedy. Set in an affluent district of New York, Ben (Jess Eisenberg) is living a lifestyle funded by his father. Ben has yet to make anything of his life as he talks nineteen to the dozen and smokes marijuana. However he has provided a room for Kalyan (Kunal Nayyar) an MBA student from Nepal who is studying at a prestigious American university.

The play opens with Kalyan's Power Point presentation on the rules of American Football written especially for his girlfriend Reshma (Annapurna Sriram) born in the USA but of Indian extraction. Ben arrives with a bang and his customary greeting of "Namaste Motherfuckers!" The quiet evening Reshma and Kalyan had envisaged is at an end as Ben grabs the limelight for himself and Reshma decides to leave.

Ben has met an old school friend Ted (Alfie Allen) now a success in the corporate banking world and soon to get married. Ben constantly refers to Ted as a "douche bag". The problem is that Ted's bride is Sarah (Katie Brayben) and that Ben has long lusted after Sarah since their days at primary school. Ben uses Kalyan as a confidant when he shares with him a scatological dream that Sigmund Freud would say indicates that Ben is barely past the anal stage of sexual development. Kalyan listens making a diplomatic comment here and there and showing us what a genuinely nice man he is, but he also wants an introduction to Ted in case Ted can help him find an internship at the bank.

Ted and Sarah are asked to a Nepalese meal cooked by Reshma and Kalyan but with loose cannon Ben in attendance. Kalyan's major contribution is another Power Point presentation on Nepalese food and how to eat it with your fingers. The meal is a social disaster. Reshma argues with Kalyan, Ben flirts with Sarah and she appears to respond to him in a flirtatious way.

Much of the comedy is from Ben's outrageous behaviour as he reveals his self loathing and lack of fulfillment. He clings to Kalyan's financially dependent friendship and later decides to tell Sarah about his erotic dream with cathartic consequences. It is brave of Jesse Eisenberg to play the part he has written for Ben because there is little to like about this character. Thinking about the title The Spoils, can it be that Ben is showing the neglect of wealthy and career occupied parents, given everything material but less time and emotional care and that he has been spoiled?

Derek McLane's set is good, a big kitchen cum living room with a wide screen tv. I wasn't convinced that Ted and Sarah were matched as a couple and although Sarah teaches prisoners finding good in them, she has a very clear commercial agenda when it comes to choosing a husband. Sarah's consolatory memory of Ben at school is just that, a consolation prize.

It is an excellent performance by Eisenberg with his manic manner and self destructive streak. Eisenberg is a Renaissance man, multi talented, a writer, actor, director and journalist. His performance is complimented by the niceness of British born Kalyan played by one of The Big Bang Theory stars (Raj) who will surely be a draw for the twenty/thirty something generation of geeks.

For Elyse Sommer's review of this production in 2015 go here. There are also links on this page to Jesse Eisenberg's first two plays.

The Spoils
Written by Jesse Eisenberg
Directed by Scott Elliott
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kunal Nayyar, Katie Brayben, Alfie Allen, Annapurna Spiram
Set Design: Derek McLane
Costume Design: Susan Hilferty
Lighting: Lee Curran
Sound: Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen
Video Design: Olivia Sebesky
Fights: Jonathan Holby
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7632
Booking to 13th August 2016
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 2nd June 2016 performance at Trafalgar Studios One, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY (Tube: Charing Cross/Embankment)
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