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BWW Review: Richard Bean's Eccentric Comedy THE NAP Introduces Snooker To Broadway

British playwright Richard Bean made a riotous Broadway debut six years ago with the knockabout farce ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS, but his newest hit to cross the Atlantic, The Nap, while full of good-natured fun, partakes in subtler eccentricities.

BWW Review:  Richard Bean's Eccentric Comedy THE NAP Introduces Snooker To Broadway
Ben Schnetzer and Heather Lind
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

The setting is Sheffield, which, since 1927, has been home to the annual World Snooker Championship. A ball and cue game first popularized in the late 1800s by British officers stationed in India, Americans would find snooker similar to billiards.

The play's title refers to the tiny hairs of the cloth covering the snooker table. Run your hand across it One Direction and the nap is smooth, allowing a ball to travel straight. Run your hand the other way and you'll feel the bristles which can cause the ball to deviate its direction.

"I play straight," says Dylan Spokes, a young man making his way to the tournament finals, played with empathetic simplicity by Ben Schnetzer. Like the major team sports in America, a young man's expertise in snooker can mean the difference between fame and fortune and scraping by with a working class income.

"Without snooker, what am I?," Dylan contemplates. "I'm cooking meth, I'm on welfare, I'm getting me legs blown off in Afghan."

His curmudgeonly father, Bobby (John Ellison Conlee, nailing the playwright's funniest lines), a former snooker player who served time for dealing drugs, puts it more bluntly.

"This game is a way for working class lads who were shit at school to make some money."

There's also a good deal of money to be made by spectators through organized betting; not just on who wins a match, but also on who wins one of the frames that make up a match. A player looking to pocket some extra cash might lose a frame to accommodate gamblers.

But not Dylan. "I honor the god of snooker," he says with humility and, as he tells police officer Eleanor (streetwise Heather Lind), he could never tank a frame.

Eleanor says she's been investigating suspicious betting activity involving his recent matches, including one where Dylan lost a frame because he admitted to an accidental foul that nobody else saw. Accompanying her is Mohammed (Bhavesh Patel), who, as an integrity officer for the International Centre for Sport Security, desires both a random urine sample and information on how Dylan managed to pay for his hotel room during a recent tournament.

BWW Review:  Richard Bean's Eccentric Comedy THE NAP Introduces Snooker To Broadway
Max Gordon Moore, Johanna Day and
Alexandra Billings (Photo: Joan Marcus)

The plot concerns an extreme bit of blackmail that would force Dylan to compromise his integrity in order to protect his mother (daffy and garish Johanna Day). Also involved in the antics are Dylan's slick manager (Max Gordon Moore) and his brassy, malaprop-spewing sponsor who goes by the name of Waxy Bush; a transgender character played by Alexandra Billings, who is also transgender.

The second act contains two scenes where Schnetzer plays the game live onstage with professional snooker player (snookerist?) Ahmed Aly Elsayed. The audience gets a view of the championship finish and the playwright has prepared two endings, depending on the outcome.

Director Dan Sullivan's production is fine enough, though the pacing can slack at times when the funnier characters are offstage and the budding romance between Dylan and Eleanor takes over.

The Nap may play better in Bean's home country, where audiences members are more likely to have a familiarity with the sport, but even on this shore it's a genial diversion with many good laughs.

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From This Author Michael Dale

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