"Better Yet, The Spoiled"
|Stars range from 5-1.|
At 31, Jesse Eisenberg (THE SOCIAL NETWORK) has crafted a successful stage and (especially) film career playing geeky, gawky, gangly, speed-talking, smart but socially inept young men. He’s also been gaining traction as a playwright, with three produced plays to his credit, including one, THE REVISIONIST (2013), which costarred Vanessa Redgrave. Given his quirky physical mannerisms, his nervous intensity, and his insecure East Coast Jew persona, he vaguely suggests a latter-day Woody Allen, but one whose comic vibe is quite a ways from Allen's; cast in his latest play, THE SPOILS, as an unpleasant neurotic, his charm quotient is insufficient to overcome his role’s boorishness or to gain much sympathy for his angst.
|Left: Jesse Eisenberg, Kunal Nayyar. Photo: Monique Carboni.|
|Front: Jesse Eisenberg, Erin Darke. Rear, from left: Kunal Nayyar, Annapurna Sriram, Michael Zegan. Photo: Monique Carboni.|
Ben, who left NYU’s film school (whether voluntarily or not isn't clear), lives in an expensive Manhattan apartment (your usual West Elm/Pottery Barn pad, designed by Derek McLane) bought for him by his wealthy father, who also pays for his other expenses. His roommate, living there rent-free, is Kalyan (Kunal Nayyar, “The Big Bang Theory”), a Nepalese grad student studying finance at NYU. One of THE SPOILS’s big problems is making us accept why anybody would want to be in Ben’s emotionally needy world for more than five minutes, rent-free or not; Kalyan, a sweet, well-balanced, mildly witty antidote to Ben’s kvetching, wants to pay the rent, but Ben, needing some kind of hold over his friend, refuses.
|From left: Jesse Eisenberg, Erin Darke, Michael Zegen, Annapurna Sriram, Kunal Nayyar. Photo: Monique Carboni.|
The plot thickens when Ben tells Kalyan that he’s run into a childhood friend named Ted (Michael Zegen), whom he hasn’t seen in 10 years. Ted, now a successful Wall Street banker, is getting married to Sarah (Erin Darke), Ben’s first crush. The envious Ben has Ted over for drinks, then gets the friendly, self-deprecating, but gullible guy, who somehow finds Ben’s sarcasm hilarious, to bring Sarah with him for a Nepalese dinner cooked by Kalyan. Ben, whose arrested development borders on the pathological, turns his attention to winning Sarah from Ted.
As we wait for the deluded hero to meet his Waterloo, the two-hours-and-twenty-minute play is puffed out with comic banter, the detailed recall of grade-school memories (including a disgusting scatological dream Ben had when he was eight and that he describes twice), the amusing PowerPoint presentations Kalyan prepares to explain football and Nepalese food, the screening of an amateurish scene Ben has filmed to impress Sarah, Kalyan’s attempt to get a job at Ted’s firm, Kalyan’s relationship with the feisty Reshma, and additional expository but mostly superfluous material.
|Annapurna Sriram, Jesse Eisenberg. Photo: Monique Carboni.|
As in some of his other roles, including THE REVISIONIST, Mr. Eisenberg is a nonstop assortment of familiar tics, sometimes suggesting a bunch of exposed nerve endings. Always intense and focused, he gabbles at Mach speed; shoots his arms out for emphasis; hits his chest; constantly touches his costars with chin tucks, facial pats, shoulder jabs, and hugs; covers his eyes with his hands pressed flat against his face when upset; and runs his fingers through his hair. Instead of sitting, he slouches; when he stands, he balances on the balls of his feet, as if ready to spring. He's perfectly convincing but there's just so much of him one can take.
THE SPOILS offers a troubled script featuring a miserable leading character. Fine as the production is, it has about it the taste of something spoiled.
Pershing Square Signature Center/Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre
480 West 42nd Street, NYC
Through June 28