WHAT "The Nap"
WHEN | WHERE Through Nov. 11, Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St.
INFO From $79, 212-239-6200, telecharge.com
BOTTOM LINE Richard Bean's slapstick comedy about, of all things, snooker.
One of my father's favorite words was snooker. He used it to mean tricked, as in “You snookered me into letting you stay out past midnight.” Alternative definitions include being exhausted, and an urban slang dictionary suggests some off-color sexual connotations.
But the snooker that’s the focus of Richard Bean's slow-build comedy "The Nap" at Manhattan Theatre Club is a game Brits consider something of a national sport. It’s similar to pool, yet the distinctions are so complex that explanations bog down the first scene to the point that audiences might be inclined to act on the play's title — though in this context the word refers to the surface of the snooker table, which in high-stakes games appears to require significant attention.
Anyway, Dylan Spokes, portrayed with studious self-righteousness by Ben Schnetzer (who must have spent hours with a snooker coach in that he rarely misses a shot), is a promising young contestant getting ready for the approaching world championships. Highly focused and intense about the integrity of the sport, he has his life is turned upside down by a couple of officials who have questions about match fixing.
A zany cast of characters enters the fray — Bean is, after all, the playwright who gave us the hysterical "One Man, Two Guvnors." There’s Dylan’s dad (John Ellison Conlee), a reformed bank robber and drug dealer, his dubiously intentioned mom (Johanna Day), his manic manager (Max Gordon Moore) and the oddly refreshing transgender mobster known as Waxy Bush (Alexandra Billings, one of my faves from "Transparent"). And in the last scene we get a real-life snooker player — Ahmed Aly Elsayed, a four-time U.S. champion.
The comedy can border on mean ("Women can be violent. Joan of Arc. Medea. Naomi Campbell.") but mostly it's laugh-out-loud wacky. Director Daniel Sullivan should have streamlined that interminable first scene, but he has a sure hand with the insane goings-on post intermission, at least if this kind of slapstick humor is your cup of tea. As David Rockwell's masterful set transitions from ramshackle legion hall to Waxy's over-the-top country house (the rhinestoned taxidermy is a hoot) to the high-tech set from which the snooker finals will be telecast, promises are made and broken, relationships are consummated and broken, and blood is spilled. Or is it?
You're never quite sure where this cross between sitcom and B-movie thriller is going as it works to its twisty conclusion. All of which brings me back to my father's definition of snooker. And without giving too much away, let’s just say he had it right all along.