The cast of ‘The Nap’ at Manhattan Theatre Club. (Photo: Joan Marcus)
By Matthew Wexler
It’s not as sleepy as the title suggests, but neither is The Nap more than a mildly entertaining romp through the world of snooker — Great Britain’s version of pool.
The name refers to the vertical lay of the green baize that covers the table’s surface, which we observe in the play’s final sequences thanks to an overhead video feed that broadcasts a championship match between a rising-star player Dylan Spokes (Ben Schnetzer) and Baghawi Quereshi (real-life U.S. National Snooker Champion Ahmed Aly Elsayed). Plenty of oddball characters and plot twists emerge before those final shots land, but the payoff isn’t nearly as substantial as that won by Dylan’s sponsor, a transgender racketeer named Waxy Bush (Alexandra Billings).
Waxy’s pockets run deep, and cohorts appear that are ultimately not who they say they are. Dylan’s estranged parents (John Ellison Conlee and Johanna Day) also find themselves wrapped up in the action as the young player falls for the play’s obligatory love interest Eleanor (Heather Lind). If this all sounds ambiguously uninteresting… well, that may be snooker for you. A lot of effort has been made to energize the snooker championship climax, but even with Mr. Elsayed’s cameo, the table action lacks high stakes and momentum. Dylan and Eleanor’s quickly-escalating romance also feels like a forced conclusion.
Playwright Richard Bean (One Man, Two Guvnors) flip-flops between naturalism and farce resulting in stylistic inconsistencies that trickle down like a dull British rain. Still, Director Daniel Sullivan manages to polish it all into a well-positioned cue ball with the actors potting most of their shots (esoteric snooker reference noted). He’s helped by David Rockwell’s Russian-doll-style nesting sets, which seamlessly transform from a British Legion snooker room to a hotel to Waxy’s garishly appointed country house and finally, the World Snooker Championship.
Ms. Billings earned most of the big laughs at the performance I attended, delivering a sharp, bigger-than-life performance peppered with malapropisms. (“If God gives you only lemons, make some marmalade.”) Fleeting British dialect notwithstanding, I hope the New York theater scene can once again lure her back from Los Angeles.
British papers considered the play “outrageously funny” and “ingenious” when it premiered at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre in 2016, but it feels like an awkward choice to launch Manhattan Theatre Club’s 2018-19 season. The Nap delivers quirky performances and laugh-out-loud one-liners, but I’ll unlikely be breaking out a cue stick to have my hand at snooker anytime soon.
Manhattan Theatre Club
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th Street, NYC
Through November 11, 2018
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Read more of his work at wexlerwrites.com.