Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through November 11, $79-$199
You don’t have to know the slightest bit about snooker to have a jolly good time at The Nap, the rousing London transfer making its American premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through November 11. Written by Olivier Award nominee Richard Bean, who wrote the uproarious hit One Man, Two Guvnors, which exploded the career of a young James Corden, The Nap is a tense and very funny crime thriller built around the highly contested world of snooker, the nineteenth-century cue sport similar to pocket billiards and pool. Twenty-three-year-old Dylan Spokes (Ben Schnetzer) is on the rise, preparing for a big-time match. He’s practicing in the British Legion basement in Sheffield with his grumpy, not-too-bright father, the numbers-challenged and ersatz snooker historian Bobby (John Ellison Conlee). Dylan is an easygoing fellow who believes in self-actualization. “It’s the highest possible state of human happiness, when your mind and body come together in, like, a beautiful symphony,” he tells his father, a former amateur snooker player who doesn’t get it at all, responding, “Do you want an orange? Got a bag full.” They are unexpectedly visited by Mohammad Butt (Bhavesh Patel), who identifies himself as an integrity officer for the International Centre for Sport Security, and Eleanor Lavery (Heather Lind), of the National Crime Agency.
They claim that Dylan is involved in match fixing and global illegal betting, a charge he adamantly denies. “I am not vulnerable. I honour my game,” he declares. “Snooker is the result of a century of human negotiation. A celebration of cooperation and civilisation. It doesn’t exist other than in the hearts of players and fans.” After Mo and Eleanor leave, Dylan and Bobby are first joined by Dylan’s oh-so-stylish, fast-talking manager, Tony DanLino (Max Gordon Moore), then by Dylan’s wacky mother, Stella (Johanna Day), and her new boyfriend, Danny Killeen (Thomas Jay Ryan), a boring driving instructor. It turns out that Stella, Bobby’s ex, needs money, and she wants Dylan to get it for her — by going against his principles and throwing a frame. It turns out that Dylan has financial issues he wasn’t aware of; he’s in deeper than he ever realized, and the only way out is to listen to transgender gangster Waxy Bush (Alexandra Billings), who has a way with words. “Dylan, let me give you some advice,” she says. “Life, for us vertebrates, is a series of disappointments and appointments. The key to happiness is to forget your disappointments and remember your appointments; in fact, write them down, preferably in a dairy.” As Dylan’s matches with Abdul Fattah and Baghawi Quereshi (both played by former snooker champion Ahmed Aly Elsayed) approach, he has to decide where his loyalties lie and what he is willing to risk, and for whom.
The title of the show is a snooker term referring to the smoothness of the table, which Dylan explains to Eleanor early on. “Playing with the nap, the ball will run straight with the natural line,” he says. “Playing against the nap, the ball can deviate and drift off line. I play straight. I honour the god of snooker, and he, or let’s be fair, she, looks after me.” Bean (The Heretic, Harvest) and Tony-winning director Daniel Sullivan (The Little Foxes, Proof) honour the god of the stage in this triumphant comedy while not being afraid to deviate and drift off line. Snooker might be an individual sport, but theater requires significant collaboration, and The Nap demonstrates that in all facets. The ensemble, which also includes Ethan Hova as Seth and a snooker referee, is terrific, with a particular shout-out to American actor Ryan (Dance Nation, The Amateurs), one of the city’s most underrated and understated treasures. David Rockwell’s sets rotate from the dank legion basement to a historic hotel room, from a country hideout to a championship snooker match, complete with riotously funny voice-over commentary that is partially improvised. The snooker matches themselves are tense and exciting, occurring live onstage. But once again, it doesn’t matter what you think about sports and gambling, as Bean has plenty to say about dysfunctional families, straight and LGBTQ romance, the criminal element, and vegetarianism. The Nap is a champion on all counts, clearing the table, knocking every ball into the right pocket.