We gave it a B
Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland are New Yorkers of a certain age, and of certain mannerisms. They’re white-haired, opinionated, and partial to corduroy and turtlenecks. They make jokes, and when they’ve particularly tickled themselves, they do little dances in place, like a happy Hillary Clinton on debate night. They’re types you recognize, or at least that you’re supposed to recognize. “I am neither Jewish nor a woman, but like many older men over 70, I have reached the age where I am somehow both,” George says of himself, and the same could be said of Gil, except that he actually is Jewish. Alan Alda has a restraining order against them.
They’re the creations of comics Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, who are much younger but perhaps no less self-amused. Gil and George are characters they developed in New York clubs and then performed on Kroll’s Comedy Central series, The Kroll Show. (Mulaney had a short-lived Fox series, and was a writer for Saturday Night Live.) And now they’ve got a full-fledged play, Oh, Hello on Broadway, at the Lyceum Theatre. Kroll and Mulaney wrote the script, in addition to starring, and they’re very funny performers. Their show, expanded from last year’s off Broadway version, is less funny, unfortunately, unless you’re already a dedicated fan.
The drama here, such as there is, is the news that the pair will be evicted from the rent-controlled Upper West Side apartment they’ve shared since they were undergraduates at Columbia. (“We’ve been living in this apartment for 40 years, paying $75 a month,” Gil moans when he gets the news. “We have a God-given right to pay the same rent every year regardless of inflation or property value!”) To pad this story out to 90-odd minutes, there are discussions about how plays work, about both men’s backstories, and a slice of their old public-access show, in which they interview a different celebrity each night (Paul Sorvino, game and befuddled, at the press performance I attended).
Kroll and Mulaney are funny men, and the script is full of genuine laughs. They’re smart and quick: The improv’d bit with Sorvino took an unexpected turn from peanut farming to Walt Whitman to Leaves of Grass. The play is directed by the playful and inventive Alex Timbers, who keeps the business humming along nicely. But there’s virtually no attempt to initiate the uninitiated. Gil and George are obsessed with tuna, but there’s never any explanation of why. They regularly mispronounce words — their show is playing on brudWAY — but that’s presented as a mere tick, not anything that explains the characters. (It also leaves the innocent playgoer sometimes unable to decipher what’s actually being said.)
In fact, the entire effort feels surprisingly unambitious, with no real story, no attempt to welcome new audiences, no truly great comic moments. It’s a sketch, drawn out.
What’s actually most interesting, if not really explored, is Kroll and Mulaney’s obvious love for theater, through their jokes about recurring dramatic devices — the one-sided phone call, the bloody handkerchief that indicates imminent death, the profound curtain line — and bits of shtick about other plays. “We would rather kill Broadway than see it with anyone else,” George says at one point. There’s no death here, but that may just be for lack of trying. B