You well know the saying…”To the victor go the spoils.” But is there really any satisfaction in winning…no matter the cost? And inevitably you ask “what exactly did I win?
This intriguing play–written by and starring the hyper kinetic, uber talented Jesse Eisenberg–poses so many dilemmas and raises a ton of questions. Yet you never ask a most important question, i.e. how will this all end? You are far too wrapped up in the five absorbing characters populating the stage while keeping up with their rapid, interesting interchange–the words seem out of their mouths before their thoughts are thought!! Their dizzying dialogue is so juicy, and the sound and fury created onstage is far too intriguing to think about any conclusions. The fun is in the getting. You stay in the moment. Such dazzling lines. Yes, some serious editing is called for here–less is more–some streamlining is necessary. But the script is so delicious, the laughter so earned–you would hate to see anything cut.
This comedic yet tragic play circles around today’s audacious young college grads starting their adult lives, and the choices they make, professionally and personally–or not. The lead character, Ben, played by the author, Jesse Eisenberg in a funny but furious performance is one spoiled young man, albeit a wealthy one. A rather manic Ben sets everything in motion here–for better or worse. His tongue becomes his pen (be prepared for some strong language albeit today’s vernacular) and his rapid fire delivery leaves the audience laughing so loud, you miss the lines that follow…think Woody Allen meets Jay Gatsby. Doubtful anyone ever said “no” to Ben and why should things change now that he’s been thrown out of grad school?
He’s living in a nice apartment courtesy of his parents (I sure don’t blame them for not wanting Ben around!) with a thoughtful Nepalese immigrant, Kalyan (who is not paying rent as Ben can easily cover the carrying charges on his home…this smacks of trouble, right?) who has just earned his MBA and is looking for an entry into the business world. Kalyan speaks the King’s English yet with all the appropriate American nuance and slang–this is one smart guy, truth be told, I liked him far better than anyone else on stage even if such a well versed character is a bit of a stretch.
Ben is not steadily employed, nor does he need to be–this gives him an unearned luxury, so he’s taking his sweet time making a documentary concerning NYC’s homeless population (how convenient) yet he, himself, is ultimately aimless. You wonder how serious he really is about his docu work…indeed about anything except the here and now. He coincidentally discovers that his childhood crush, Sarah, is now a teacher and recently engaged to a banker and we slowly discover that self-centered Ben is going to win this young woman back, no matter who gets hurt in the process. Kalyan already has an MD girlfriend finishing up her medical residency so her bold presence and sanity is more then welcome here. An honest voice of reason always comes in handy–especially at unevenly paired dinner parties. But hell hath no fury like a man scorned, even though the scorning was unintentional–no one is safe. There is malice in Ben, no surprise there, but how far will he go? Turns out Ben’s realities are far different from the truth.
The initial laughs give way to quite a complex drama but I’ll leave it there as anything I say will be a total understatement. Like saying “Little Red Riding Hood” is about a girl and her Grandma. I guarantee that you are in for quite an evening of contemporary theater. A shame this play has such a short run at Signature (the intimate Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theater) but keep your eyes open, you never know when a good play will next appear–for some reason I see a downtown future here for The Spoils. The Lortel, perhaps?
The sets and costumes are serviceable…I am never a fan of “one room” dramas yet I understand the need here for consolidation.
It’s all in the play and performers–they are amazing, one is better then the next, especially Kunal Mayyar as Kalyan and Erin Darke as Sarah. But ultimately it is Jesse Eisenberg’s evening, he wrote himself a heck of a good play and his casting is impeccable–especially the lead!
p.s. Given the current and ongoing tragedy in Nepal, a heartfelt note from Jesse Eisenberg was inserted into our audience programs requesting $10 be donated to the Red Cross, Save The Children, or Global Giving. These three charities can easily be contacted in order to donate.
In short, “Thank you very much for coming to the show. The character Kalyan is based on my friend Kalyan Mathema who is from a suburb of Patan, a city in the Kathmandu Valley…he is returning to Nepal to help his family and countrymen who are deeply and horribly affected by this disaster. With appreciation, Jesse Eisenberg”
By: Joanne Theodorou // Photo Credit: Monique Carboni