"Verité": EW review
Writer Nick Jones–currently enjoying a staff position for Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black–is one of the theater’s more original young voices; in fact, his delectable hard-rock puppet musical Jollyship the Whiz Bang from 2008 has been long overdue for a comeback in a larger production for some time. (Listen up, ye of the theater moneybags.) And Jones’ new effort features rising star Anna Camp, who has brightened up everything from The Good Wife to the acapella comedy Pitch Perfect (where she owns the immortal line, “Aca-scuse me?”). So it’s with a modicum of regret to report that Verité, his latest play to be produced through Lincoln Center’s LCT3 series for emerging playwrights, is simply not in the same league, a dark comedy that seems neither dark nor comic enough.
The set-up is most promising: Jo (Anna Camp), a married fantasy writer, is offered the deal of a lifetime–a $50K bounty to write a memoir. Her publishers, a Teutonic duo straight out of an SNL skit (played amusingly by Matt McGrath and Robert Sella), who publish books with names like The Grabby Friend and Ghetto Rainbow, tell her to fashion it honestly but in a way that’s still “interesting”; this word is repeated so often you half-expect Chairy from Pee-wee’s Playhouse to go berserk in a corner somewhere every time someone utters it. The offer proves irresistible to Jo, who then uproots her husband (Danny Wolohan), sister-in-law (Jeanine Serralles, adding some flair) and son (Oliver Hollmann), to take part in some life adventures to spruce up the book and please her shifty bosses. A handsome mystery man (Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Desi from HBO’s Girls) also appears to Jo, and seems to know her better than she knows him. Will she sacrifice her normalcy for her art? And are those strange grey-suited publishers behind everything?
The chief problem with Verité is that Jo’s down-the-rabbit-hole slide isn’t very, well…interesting. She essentially weighs infidelity as a means to jazz up her life for richer material, but it amounts to little when the guy she’s stepping out on her marriage for isn’t much more intriguing than her blue-collar husband. Moss-Bachrach and Camp–so good in their recent film and TV roles–don’t have a whole lot of chemistry here, and Jones’ writing of their characters increasingly lacks confidence, not to mention credibility. (Would Jo really carry on a clandestine affair with this guy in her own apartment when her sister-in-law lives directly below, with the latter already established as meddlesome?).
There are occasional traces of Jones’ caustic wit on display (Jo’s young son tearfully asks, “You don’t think I’m commercial?” when she announces her intentions), but too often Verité feels like a neutered, smirky version of the Michael Douglas thriller The Game. There’s no truly satisfying aca-scuse for that. C