Mom Theatre Blogger: The Spoils: Show Review by Robin Gorman Newman
The Spoils, written by actor Jesse Eisenberg (the Social Network, etc.) gets a resounding A++ for the most graphically gross (not a spoiler alert…consider it a warning) — luckily not reenacted — description of an unsanitary, nightmarish dream — though for Ben — the main character — it was a turn on. And, we get to hear about this distasteful act more than once.
It’s hard to understand weed-smoking Ben who seems capable of anything, yet nothing. He is stuck. Supported by a sugar daddy father, with no mention of his mother, Ben either has a major attitude or mental illness. Though the later, which would at least make him sympathetic, is never mentioned. His behavior is so consistently off-putting, that it would be remotely more excusable if he were borderline personality or Asperger’s or a combination. And, if either was so, it’s a huge neglect on the part of his “friends” for not encouraging him to seek help. Instead, one by one, each falls victim to his verbal — and sometimes physical — barrages, even when he is bonding (getting oddly touchy feely) or lusting after them — one in particular — Sarah (an earnest Erin Darke) — his unrequited love who he claims to have adored since childhood and who has rendered him incapable of loving another. To his chagrin, Sarah is now engaged to Ted (Michael Zegen), a former mutual classmate, who impresses Sarah with his desire to take care of her. Ben confesses his romantic intentions to Sarah, and when she catches him in a lie, re: his film making endeavors aimed to impress her, he has no comeback.
Ben is socially disconnected, delusional and knows no boundaries. He fares best at the beginning of Act II during a wordplay game take off on “I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter.” It’s here that Eisenberg displays some particularly clever and fun dialogue, and it reinforces Ben’s inability to really connect, yet we’re not sure why he is challenged, so it doesn’t add much other than entertainment value.
When the play opens, we meet Ben’s roommate, Kalyan, a warm, caring, aspiring financier from Nepal, who authored a book and came to America with little to his name but a burning desire to make it. Ben refers to him as his best friend, in fact, seemingly his only friend, but with friends like him, who needs enemies?! Yet, Kalyan is grateful to have a swank roof over his head, and Ben appears to be in his corner, not even charging him rent, until he turns on him, ultimately shredding both his psyche and beloved book.
The message? The importance of identity? The script alludes to that, but there is nothing new here. Think St. Elmo’s Fire meets a far lesser This is Our Youth. Three men, two women come together. Kalyan’s Indian-American girlfriend, Reshma (Annapurna Sriram), is a confident, striking, medical student, who despises Ben, and makes Kalyan feel insecure about their relationship.
Sarah, a teacher, seems demure until a feisty encounter with Ben leads to an emotional outburst. Yet at the end, when we think she’ll never want to face him again, she jumps in to relate a story from his youth in an attempt to paint him as a savior of a schoolgirl from the Ukraine, even though it was via a sexual gesture. How this is redeeming, I’m not quite sure.
Ted, a banker, is awkward, yet unassuming and possibly naive, though we don’t know how much he knows re: Ben’s advances toward Sarah.
All this said, Eisenberg does have the gift of gab, and some of the dialogue is witty. His portrayal packs a punch — and his rapid fire speech is impressive. But what is Ben’s motivation for all the rants? His character is unfiltered and comes out firing from the get go — making slurs re: cultures, sexes and religions, including his own Judaism. Is he just an angry slacker who got kicked out of grad school? The character doesn’t seem to care or evolve, unless in breaking down, he somehow ultimately sees the light…though I somehow doubt it.
Kunal Nayyar (Big Bang Theory) as Kulyan turns in a likeable, affecting portrayal. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and whether delivering a blank stare or bursting into tears, he is the character we care most about.
There are things to be enjoyed here, including the strong cast, but THE SPOILS doesn’t deliver as it might.
This production includes Set Design by Derek McLane, Costume Design by Susan Hilferty, Lighting Design by Peter Kaczorowski, Sound Design by Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen and Projection Design by Olivia Sebesky.
Directed by Scott Elliott, The Spoils is playing a limited Off-Broadway engagement through June 28 at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street). The Spoils marks the third show in The New Group’s current 20th Anniversary Season. Visit http://www.signaturetheatre.org.