BWW REVIEW: Jesse Eisenberg's THE SPOILS Emphasizes Allowances Afforded The Arrogant Affluent.
Friday 31st January 2020, 7:30pm Flight Path Theatre
Jesse Eisenberg's THE SPOILS reinforces the ability of rich white men to get away with abhorrent behavior with little to no consequences. Under Ian Warwick's direction, this work, which premiered off Broadway in 2015, expresses the unusual choice to present unchecked arrogance and obnoxiousness with minimal redeeming features in the play's leading character.
The premise of the piece is that Nepalese business post-grad student Kalyan (Kabir Singh) is roommates with Ben (Michael Becker) a rich Jewish New Yorker who was kicked out of university and now claims to be a filmmaker. While Kalyan is focused on doing well in his studies, getting a good job at an American bank and spending time with his medical student girlfriend Reshma (Rebecca Abdel-Messih), Ben is a perpetual stoner who roams the streets supposedly looking for artistic inspiration when he's not home directing veiled racist comments and outright insults at Kalyan and Reshma. When Kalyan discovers that Ben has run into an old school buddy, the boring Ted (Haydan Hawkins) who now works at a bank he begs for Ben to put aside the his jealousy that Ted is engaged to his childhood crush, schoolteacher to troubled kids, Sarah (Isabel Dickson) and set up a meeting with the view of getting a job introduction. Naturally, Ben is as obnoxious to Ted and Sarah as well, leading to him spoiling yet another human relationship but never being pulled up on his behavior and worse, not seeming to care if he burned even more bridges.
Irma Calabrese (Set and Costume Design) has turned the unusual space of Flight Path Theatre into an open plan living space of Ben and Kaylan's apartment, reinforcing the considerable value of the property owned by Ben's father, a man who Ben seems to have also alienated. The position of the audience along two sides of the long rectangle does pose a challenge for the staging of the work however as Warwick opts to seat all 5 characters along one side of the dining table despite the intimacy of the theatre which could potentially have handled scenes with some backs to the audience. The use of a large feature wall for projecting Kalyan's numerous PowerPoint presentations and Ben's film editing screening connects the work to current technology, reinforcing that this work is set in the present.
While Warwick's cast give solid performances, they are unfortunately let down by the base material. There isn't enough to make the audience want to invest in any of the characters which are all sketched with no real depth. The flashes where you think Ben may have a redeeming quality are quickly shattered as the title implies that the spoilt rich kid spoils everything around him. Kaylan is to weak to ever stand up for himself against Ben or Reshma until too late. Reshma spends more time scowling, throwing back barbs at Ben and intimating that Kaylan isnt as successful as she'd like than expressing any discernable reason why Kaylan is attracted to her. Ted is a boring jock and Sarah is just too sweet to be real.
The plot of watching another rich white male getting away with bullying, misogyny, racism (casual and overt), and sexual assault, with no real consequence only goes so far as possibly drawing attention to this behavior, even though most astute audiences will already be aware of this issue and its consequences if left unchecked (look at some of rich white men in positions of power around the world). As much as the cast and creatives try to inject some life into THE SPOILS, it is a bland story with an unlikable lead and not particularly engaging supporting characters and weak comedy that for the most part is just uncomfortable to anyone who understands the impact of casual racism.