By Jessica Derschowitz
September 27, 2018 at 10:00 PM EDT
© Joan Marcus 2018

Because the title lends itself to endless puns, let’s get them out of the way: The Nap isn’t about a short snooze. Nor is it likely to make you want to take one.

What it is about, however, is snooker — a British version of pool — and the wild cast of characters surrounding an upstart contender for the sport’s world championship (seriously, it’s a whole thing). And it makes for a decidedly-not-sleep-inducing good time.

You don’t need to know much of anything about billiards to get hooked into this witty play from prolific playwright Richard Bean (One Man, Two Guvnors), which came to Broadway after a well-received 2016 run in the U.K. The story centers on Dylan Spokes (Ben Schnetzer), an up-and-coming snooker star who’s returned to his hometown of Sheffield for that impending tournament (the “nap” of the title refers to the cloth on the game’s table). His family is decidedly dysfunctional — his father is a former drug dealer with a less-than-steady grasp of math, his mother a disheveled drinker who runs in dubious circles. (If you need a forged parking pass or some off-brand steaks, she’s your gal.)

It’s because of those circles that Dylan is “encouraged,” with all the subtlety of a pool cue to the back of the head, to play along in a match-fixing scheme. A local mobster named Waxy Bush — a transgender woman played by Transparent actress Alexandra Billings — wants Billy to tank a frame in his upcoming game. If he doesn’t, well, let’s just say it’s all fun and games (literally, in this situation) until someone gets hurt.

The stakes, and the plot, escalate from there, with the talented ensemble tackling Bean’s zippy banter and weaving twists. Billings is a riot as Waxy, a glamorous gangster with a wooden arm, a penchant for zebra-striped décor, and a tendency toward verbal slips (just one example: “I live in hope,” she says, “I am nothing if not an optometrist”). Daniel Sullivan’s direction keeps the play moving briskly, and Schnetzer’s Dylan charms as the straight man at the center as this cart goes off the rails, but Billings is the one gleefully driving the train.

© Joan Marcus 2018

Max Gordon Moore is another highlight as Dylan’s motormouth manager, as is Thomas Jay Ryan as his mother’s boozy Irish boyfriend, a self-described “outlier on the carousel of life” The two officials who try to intervene and protect Dylan— one a no-nonsense sports integrity officer (Bhavesh Patel), the other a cop (Heather Lind) whose interest in Dylan goes beyond snooker — are the weakest characters of the bunch, perhaps because they need to be more serious than the rest, or perhaps because they’re not exactly what they seem.

When it all culminates in the championship match (real-life snooker pro Ahmed Aly Elsayed plays Dylan’s two opponents), David Rockwell’s set transforms into an ESPN-worthy setup, complete with an overhead screen showing the table action and commentators laying out what’s happening in hushed monotone. By that final match, even if you’d never heard of snooker before setting foot in the theater, you’ll be invested in the outcome — the audience members who groaned and gasped during the preview performance I attended would likely agree — and in a smart twist, the game they’re playing is a real one, and either character may win or lose. But regardless of who gets the trophy, The Nap is a charming winner. B+