Richard Bean struck gold with One Man, Two Guvnors, an adaptation of The Servant of Two Masters that ran for 172 nights on Broadway and effectively launched James Corden into late night. I have to admit that my initial, favorable sense of the show has faded with time, especially after seeing Goldini’s play revived at Theatre for a New Audience. My reactions to The Nap, Bean’s first play to reach the United States since One Man, Two Guvnors, are much less complicated. This story of the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield is just dull, a non-entity, a play that was written on autopilot.
Sheffield native Dylan Spokes (Ben Schnetzer) is preparing for the Championship and it looks like he might win. His father (John Ellison Conlee), a Falstaffian ex-con and a “good amateur,” hangs around his practice room to drink beer, make crass jokes, and occasionally coach his son. His mother (Johanna Day) shows up, too, dragging her boyfriend (Thomas Jay Rya) in tow and quick to try to squeeze Dylan for money. See, she lied to a local gangster, Waxy Bush (Alexandra Billings), claiming he’d take a dive in the fourth frame when she had had no such guarantee. Dylan won the frame, and now mom’s in trouble. Besides family, Dylan has to contend with an aggressively shallow manager (Max Gordon Moore), a suspicious “integrity officer” from the league (Bhavesh Patel), and a police officer who admits she reads his blog (Heather Lind). In any case, he’s not entering this championship unfettered and clear-headed.
Now, the gimmick of The Nap is that the characters are actually playing billiards. There’s even a real champion, Ahmed Aly Elsayed, who plays Dylan’s rival. According to press releases, the ending is determined by Schnetzer’s performance: sometimes he wins and sometimes he loses. This is meant, I think, to give the play a sense of spontaneity, which Bean relied on heavily in One Man, Two Guvnors. But the final showdown—a kind of watered-down take on the ending of The Mystery of Edwin Drood—is eclipsed here by lazy writing and an absence of standout performances. Waxy, in particular, is guilty of a slew of soulless malapropisms: she calls Dylan a “child effigy,” assures him that her business is “all perfectly illegitimate,” and tells the members of her gang that a Mr. Fitzgerald “insures me that we have done nothing legal.” Admittedly, there are a few salvageable jokes thrown into the mix, as when Billings deadpans, “Beauty is only skin.” But for the most part, we are stuck with paint-by-numbers lines like this one: “Nothing wrong with me, though I do have a peanut analogy.”