Intermission Talk

 He Took Her ‘Nap’

Near ‘Popcorn Falls’



Let’s  look at Richard Bean’s new Broadway comedy “The Nap.”

Here’s what it’s not:  a Readers’  Digest version of “Sleeping Beauty;” how the Cliff Notes cover the life of Rip Van Winkle, or even that ill-advised snooze Goldilocks took so the three bears could spot her.

Here’s what it is: the most recent example of how British playwrights have honed the skills needed to tell a near-farce within the confines of a reasonably plausible premise.  Another outstanding example – “One Man, Two Guvnors,” also by Bean.  Or the current long-running  Britcom “The  Play That Went Wrong.”

Playwriting teachers often emphasize the importance of great writing when it comes to crafting a successful comedy.  They often fail to explain to their eager students that they need to take one more step back.  Great writing?  Yes.  But without a captivating premise onto which to hang their bon motes, all that writing-polishing will have  been for naught.

Because at least as critical [some say even more] is inventing a unique  premise, something that will not seem to echo the incidents in popular sitcoms.   Veteran television producer Bill Persky  once told me, during a break in shooting an episode of “Kate and Allie,” that there are only about half a dozen situations that are mainstays in churning out episodes of a television sitcom, such as ‘trapped in a snowbound cabin with no phones or food,’ or ‘the flowers meant for her #1 went to her #2.’  It was the previously unseen story line of two single women, and their children, sharing an apartment, that was the reason Persky’s show clicked.   And in the case of “The Nap,” Bean applies that rule very well indeed.

The title refers to the felt-like cloth surface of the large rectangular  table  where the game is played – much like the ones used  in billiards or pool.  And despite putting the popular British game  of snooker literally at the center of the story, Bean uses it as a  jumping-off point to intermingle the lives of eleven people.    Young Dylan [a very  sympathetic John Ellison Conlee] has been  practicing his snooker skills for years, compliments of the converted  garage his dad Bobby has set up for him, as a way of helping his vulnerable offspring stay out of trouble.  This largess comes courtesy of his  peddling recreational drugs, landing him in prison until very recently.

When we first meet devout vegetarian Dylan, he feels ready  to face the semi-finals rounds that lead to a World Championship title. Typically, players that attain his status [ranked # 117th] have a financial  sponsor.  For Dylan, that means being beholden to one-armed, transgender Waxy Bush, whose apparel screams  “I’m to be reckoned with.”  However, as it happens, there’s some beholden-ing that Waxy must honor, or lose another limb, or more.  Waxy has committed Dylan,  without his knowledge, to throw one round during the match, so Waxy can make it possible for his string-pullers, [underworld Phillipine gamblers], to place a large bet on the boy losing that particular round.

Waxy and this fractured family have another layer of history.  Before Waxy was a she, she was a he.  This particular backstory involves dating  Dylan’s mother, who now has her own baggage weighing her down – a sleazy boyfriend, who seems to have parted company with the concept of using showers.  That self-serving couple [Johanna Day and Danny Killeen] miss no opening in the proceedings to again take advantage of Dylan.  With the stakes increasing as the lad moves up the ranks of the contenders, word somehow makes its way to the Integrity Division of International Sports Security, prompting a surprise  visit from its top officer to visit Dylan while he is practicing.  The cast- of-characters stew grows larger and larger, as we meet Officer  Mohammad Butt [Bhavesh Patel, a true comic discovery] accompanied by Eleanor Lavery [Heather Lind] , now a police detective, formerly a pole dancer.

Wait – there’s more.  Bobby’s bundle-of-nerves agent Tony [some might say in typical agent-y behavior] compounds things even more with his ineptitude.  The pivotal sequence has Dylan matched against two top-ranked snooker pros, both played by real-life champ Ahmed Aly Elsayed. There are a few other names-and-faces who populate the dubious denouement, but the second act is wisely, cleverly letting us view these matches.  A-list director Daniel Sullivan has arranged for the real-time, closed-circuit display of the matches to video screens above and to the sides of the games, and in a wickedly funny jab at real-world sports commentators, has a two-man off-stage pair describing the playbyplay, folding in every gratuitous comment familiar to anyone who watches any sport on television.   It does provide some details in the game of snooker, which by now has become incidental.

Laughs abound, coming from the situations.  Another sure-fire source of  humor flows from Waxy, the malaprop fountain in residence.  She  makes her pride known when she refers to Dylan as “a child effigy.”  And though  the action gets a little crowded, and a little difficult to follow as the cast has varying degrees of success with their British dialects, “The Nap” may be this season’s real sleeper Broadway hit.

And as it often happens, another example of something rare has a parallel example off-Broadway.  “Popcorn Falls” tells its story with even more characters, but in James Hindman’s crackerjack comedy, all those dozen or more characters come to life courtesy of just two actors, Adam Heller and Tom Souhrada.  The bucolic town of the title faces a critical crisis.  The town’s only attraction, a splendid waterfall, has gone stone cold dry.  Their fate is sealed, unless they can find a way to earn an ear-marked grant, which  they can have if they put on a play.  Since they have no theatre, let alone the necessary actors, director, crew et al, this challenge requires quick thinking and making use of any and all resources they may have, and maybe not even realize.

As they reluctantly at first try to think of how to achieve this, the way out begins to materialize.  A virtual panoply of resident types gradually forge a plan.  And by the way, their play must be produced in one week.  This mirrors some real-world circumstances many off- and off-off Broadway producers regularly face.

The coming together of minds and will power happens as the show’s two versatile actors – Heller and Souhrada – assume the personas of more than a dozen residents, male and female, and drag the breathlessly  final condition to life.  The humor comes out of both the writing and the performances.  This play also owes its success to a script that Hindman has crafted, starting with the commendable creation of its unique premise [remember Persky’s observation?].   Of course the attainment of its happy ending is never in doubt.  Getting there is many times more than half the fun.  You might not have considered Popcorn Falls a possible destination on your next vacation.  It owes equal praise for its director, two-time Tony Award winning actor Christian Borle.  As the rainy humid season seems to have gripped us, making us long for some  escape, here’s your answer.  Enjoy a real respite at the Davenport Theatre on west 45th street.   Bring a friend.


Riding on the overwhelming success of their presentations in Germany and France, as well as in some US cities, the Voice Theatre will present a special reading of ‘Legacy, Present and Past,’ the story of a Jewish family rescued from Berlin during WWII.  The narrative is paired with teen-agers of today, combating bullying, racism, and their personal experiences dealing with their situations at home.  The event will be held on October 24 at the Cornelia Street Cafe.  Due to very limited seating, you are encouraged to make reservations early.  For more information, visit, or call 212 – 989 – 0319 . . . the reborn New York International Fringe Festival, returning after a year off to re-evaluate,  will now run during the entire month of October, and expand its sites to venues north of 14th street, and in the other boroughs.  Organized by the Present Company, info can be found at www.FringeNYC, and they want to alert you that many of the venues are new to the festival, and often not very large . . . the Drama Bookstore [250 west 40th street] is presenting a special event  on Monday, October 22 at 6 PM.  Veteran talent manager Brad Lemack’s new book ‘The New Business of Acting: How to Build a Career in a Changing Landscape’ will be discussed with the author.  Author Lemack states that it is his intention “to empower the reader with a critical perspective on how to create, map out and embark on a strategic, life-long journey that will earn opportunities on which careers are built.” . . . signaling its 50 years of service to the theatre community, TDF has expanded the ways someone can find out about discounted tickets.  In addition to its presence in Times Square, [Broadway and 47th street], information is now also available at the South Street Seaport [190 Front Street, corner of John Street], and at Lincoln Center [61 west 62nd street].  TDF Executive Director also announced that the information states the discounted price [50 – 20 % off.  Available shows are listed through the TDF app or online at

On Book

There’s an old saying among actors: ‘Dying is easy.  Comedy is hard.”  In tribute to the recently deceased comedy-writing genius of Neil Simon, who passed away recently, two comprehensive books bring you into his world.  ‘The Comedy of Neil Simon,’ and ‘The Collected Plays of Neil Simon,’ are both from Random House . . . and here are two outstanding works that deliver the goods for anyone with a real interest in this subject: “Make ‘Em Laugh – the Funny Business of America,” by Laurence Maslon [from 12 Press, based on the documentary film by Michael Kantor], a companion to the PBS series, and from Grove Press, “The Comedians – Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels and the History of American Comedy,” by Kliph Nesteroff.


TONY VELLELA wrote and produced the PBS series ‘Character Studies’ for PBS.  His play ‘Admissions’ was a Best Play winner at the New York International Fringe Festival, and is published by Playscripts.  He has written nine other plays and musicals, including ‘Mister,’ with composer Misha Piatigosky, for Anthony Rapp.  He has written three other books, and numerous magazine and newspaper articles for publications including Parade, the Christian Science Monitor, Dramatics, USA Today, Reader’s  Digest, Motion Picture Daily, Crawdaddy, Rolling Stone. among others. He has taught theatre-related classes at HB Studio, the 92nd Street Y, Columbia University’s Teachers’ College and other institutions.


CARMEL CAR & LIMOUSINE SERVICE, in business since 1978, has been selected as the official transportation company for Intermission Talk.  Its wide variety of services, including special theatre packages, and reservations, are available at, the Carmel App, and 212 – 666 – 6666.


Books recommended or referenced in Intermission Talk, are available at, or through Manhattan’s Tony Award-winning Drama Bookshop, 250 west 40th street, NYC 10018, or at 212 – 944 – 0595, or at ===================================================





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