'The Nap' at the Manhattan Theatre Club: Crass, unfunny snookering of the audience

The cast of "The Nap," at the Manhattan Theatre Club.

I was snookered.

They’re billing The Nap, Richard Bean’s new play — you may know his name as the author of One Man, Two Guvnors — as a “comedy thriller,”  but the show is neither very funny nor very suspenseful. 

Snooker, as a noun, denotes the English version of billiards or pool, played on a large table covered with a cloth that has a nap, with  smooth and rough, right and wrong directions. (Could this be a metaphor?) Snooker as a verb refers to a way of cheating, and  to be snookered is to be cheated by being fooled. That’s the method as well as the content of this play, which has found an unlikely home on Broadway.

The story’s focus is the World Snooker Championship, taking place in Sheffield, a small city in Yorkshire, a place known for its impenetrable accents, laid on thick by a cast of American actors. The homeboy contender is Dylan Spokes (Ben Schnetzer), whose father, Bobby (John Ellison Conlee), is both a moron and drug dealer, while his mother (Johanna Day) waxes women’s privates for a living to support her gambling habit. Much money is owed to dangerous people. The question is: Will Dylan take the fix to rescue his parents, allowing the bad guys to bet on a sure, if dishonorable, thing?

Mom works for crime boss Waxy Bush (Alexandra Billings), whose name indicates the level of humor in this show. Waxy is a transsexual (as is Billings), which provides opportunities for much crass joking. 

The overworked running gag is that Bobby can’t remember words, so he uses references to old movies while people guess at actors’ names to arrive at what he wants to say; this aphasia is matched by Waxy’s misuse of words (like Mrs. Malaprop in Sheridan’s 18th-century play The Rivals, but without the wit).

Act 2 has some ingenious staging: The audience is able to watch the final rounds of the championship match through a live-streaming projection above the snooker table onstage. Dylan’s opponent is played by Ahmed Aly Elsayed, who is actually the U.S. National Snooker Champion. The outcome of the match depends each night on whether Schnetzer, as Dylan, makes the final shot, which, we’re assured by the program notes, is actually left up to chance. There is a big  plot reveal (no spoilers), in one last attempt to snooker us all.

Daniel Sullivan directed; Kay Voyce designed the too-obvious costumes; David Rockwell created the clever sets. 

Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, New York.