I guess I’ve been snookered. You’ll probably be hearing many critics and theatergoing friends boasting of that fact after seeing The Nap. It’s a compliment. No, it’s a rave, a hallelujah. Comedy – the sort of pull-out-the-stops contraption that causes waves of tear-inducing laughter – is in short supply on Broadway.
Richard Bean’s new play, which opened tonight at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Broadway flagship, the Friedman, redresses that situation. That will reassure folks with sense memory of a similar response to Bean’s Broadway debut six years ago with One Man, Two Guv’nors, which launched the career of James Corden and reacquainted us with the 18th-century commedia gagsmith Carlo Goldoni, whose The Servant of Two Masters provided Bean with his source material. With The Nap, Bean has performed a similar public service concerning the arcane sport of snooker and another heretofore unknown actor named Ben Schnetzer, making a smashing Broadway debut in this fabulous con job of a comedy.
Not that he’s the star. That billing goes to an inanimate object, the imposing snooker table that dominates the opening and several subsequent scenes. It looks like a grand, oak-footed pool table anomalously set in the basement of a seen-better-days Sheffield veterans’ club. Snooker is pool-like (felt-lined table, wooden cue, multi-colored balls, pockets), but the strategy and scoring are more complicated. The midlands city apparently is the Valhalla of snookerdom, and The Nap opens on the eve of the world snooker championship.
Enter Dylan Spokes (Schnetzer, oozing native charm), the pride of Sheffield and its hope to bring the championship home. He drops a coin in the power meter, chalks his cue and lines up a shot. Bobby Spokes (John Ellison Conlee), Dylan’s father, arrives, proffering a chewed half of his shrimp sandwich. Vegetarian Dylan declines: “I don’t eat anything with a brain, do I?” “They’re shrimps,” Bobby retorts, “they’re not novelists.”
And we’re off to the races. As Dylan irons the table, smoothing the grain of the nap so the struck balls will run true (hence the play’s title), father and son banter about the game, sex, other players. Mohammad Butt (Bhavesh Patel) and Eleanor Lavery (Heather Lind) arrive, representing “the International Centre for Sport Integrity” to collect a urine sample and question Dylan about his possible involvement in a recent point-shaving scam, which he denies with umbrage worthy of Serena Williams.
From here on out, The Nap spins further and further into a whirlwind of manipulators and dissemblers, with Dylan the calm eye. They include his swaggering agent (Max Gordon Moore), dissolute mother (Johanna Day), her malodorous boyfriend (Thomas Jay Ryan) and a one-handed gambling queen (Alexandra Billings) with a heavy-handed aptitude for malapropisms (“Shakespeare said, ‘Either a lender or a borrower be’”).
Under Daniel Sullivan’s astute direction – more often akin to choreography – and on David Rockwell’s gloriously seedy sets, this glorious ensemble attacks each line with unvarnished verve. Yes, there is some disagreement onstage about what constitutes a Sheffield accent (or even a British accent for that matter), but that somehow adds to the general merriment. And as he showed with One Man, Two Guv’nors, Bean has a sentimental streak that manages, puppylike, to stick its wet nose into the proceedings at just the right moment.
None of it is remotely believable, and all of it seems true. You’ll doubtless reach the same conclusion. As soon as you stop laughing.