“The Nap,” a new Manhattan Theatre Club production at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, is a rowdy cocktail of style and content, often at war with itself, but with enough cheeky tangents to win the day — and with any second thoughts on plot and character overcome by sheer over-the-top comedy.
This play is frothy business. Our young hero tussles with the rackets, his parents, championship snooker, and a mysterious woman. Divergent styles of staging and acting clatter sharply as farce overtakes the woes of snooker ace Dylan Spokes (Ben Schnetzer).
And, as farce, “The Nap” is outrageous, as it should be. Plenty of laughs surround Dylan’s journey to the game. He is thronged by a madcap, colorful crew. But with drama and farce tied into one twisted loop, the play is a dramaturgical pretzel. You can’t think too much here.
A unity of approach may not be possible for all the actors in this contorted exercise, but Max Gordon Moore and Alexandra Billings stand out, with enough flair to bury the needle on the farce laugh-o-meter.
The timeworn complication of taking a dive is turned into a clever wrinkle, and the British setting helps to keep the action at a respectable distance — all the better for comedy.
There is also a love story, and a parental story. That twist concept works double-overtime on these plotlines, and ramps up the stakes for Dylan. Our hero has plenty to worry about as he maneuvers to battle for his gal, and his soul, and still get a shot at the title in the climactic championship match.
And after the curtain falls, if we decide to take this seriously or try to unpack its logic, a cynic might observe that the bad guys win again, with no retribution or payback. Moreover, the farcical gangsters of “The Nap” use some cruel artillery, more in line with noire than comedy.
But dichotomy is part of the package. You get some real snooker along with the silliness. Playwright Richard Bean and director Daniel Sullivan shape a curious, tentative tango between the two lovers, forcing Dylan and his temptress Eleanor (Heather Lind) to bob and weave, and so the romance angle founders.
You might suppose that no miracle ending could save the match of these two, but that would be the fallout of playing the thinking game.
Best to watch, and let this cocktail fizz on its merry way.
Set designer David Rockwell must have had a blast devising the country estate of “The Nap’s” lofty scoundrel. His team deserves its own curtain call. You’ll think twice the next time you see a hunting trophy down at the lodge.
And designer Kaye Voyce also captures the antic essence in some challenging costume requirements. If you happen to think a certain costume must be deliberately awful, you’re onto something.
Oh, and I suggest, you could just sit back and laugh.