When director Richard Wilson asked playwright Richard Bean to write a play about the game of snooker—think billiards, but with a much larger table and no stripes versus solids—Bean didn’t think it could be done in an authentic way. Plays with sports have historically struck him as a conundrum. “It’s so embarrassing when you go to a play about soccer and the guys on the stage can’t even trap a ball,” he says.
Bean tinkered with the idea for a year, but struggled to find a way in.
Then came a match-fixing scandal in snooker. “That gave me the idea, ‘Well, if we make the play about match fixing, an actor can be the one tanking the game because all they’ve got to do is one bad shot.’”
The result is his new comedy The Nap, in previews at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre beginning September 5. The story follows Dylan Spokes, the fictional 117th ranked snooker player in the world. His father’s a gambler and his mother’s a drunk, but Dylan managed to turn himself into a world-class competitor, one who holds integrity above all else—even when approached about purposefully losing a match for a payout.
And though actor Ben Schnetzer plays Dylan, the U.S. National Snooker Champion, Ahmed Aly Elsayed, plays his opponent—satisfying Bean’s own integrity of authenticity.
While match fixing seems a premise fit for drama, Bean tapped the style he does best: Having come to playwriting from the world of stand-up, comedy is Bean’s natural impulse.
“It’s my own insecurity, really,” he says of what leads him toward the laughter. “I don’t do sensationalism. I’m not interested in myself—I don’t do autobiography. I don’t think I have an insight into making the world a better place. I don’t have a message. But I did ten years of stand-up, so what I can do is I can tell a story in jokes. And not everybody can do that.”
If his previous Broadway outing One Man, Two Guvnors was any indication, Bean certainly can. “It’s like a kettle boiling,” he says of his style. “It’s a build.”
But what’s the key to generating that comedic momentum? “Maybe it’s editing,” he suggests. “It’s like making a film, you know? It’s what you put in the bin that makes it good.
“If it doesn’t sound original or unique, it’s kind of not worth doing.”