Cast of All New People (left), Zach Braff (center), and John Simon (right).
When the two plastic scrim panels that serve as curtains for The Second Stage’s All New People separate, Charlie, a barefoot man in pajamas is standing on a stool with a noose around his neck made of an extension cord attached to the ceiling. He hesitates, then reaching to a nearby table, grabs a cigarette and lights it. So Zach Braff’s (center) comedy earns the first of many laughs.
In barges pretty Emma, a garrulous young woman, whose very entrance causes Charlie to slip, knocking the chair from under him. The noose tightly grabs about his neck as Charlie struggles to avoid choking to death. Emma looks horrified and at first tries to grab him; she does so successfully, gets the chair and places it back under his feet and helps him get down from the hanging position. Charlie eventually dismounts.
Emma is British, and though sorely lacking a Green Card, acts as realtor for a couple seeking to rent this very stylish summer home on New Jersey’s Long Beach Island for next summer. She now assumes the role of a heaven-sent rescuer and gradually sucks Charlie into a reluctant conversation.
She is clever in a somewhat flighty way, full of jovial ironies somewhere on the border between smart and smartass. She fends off Charlie’s attempts to get rid of her, receives a call on her cell phone from a suitor named Myron, a curious character both local fire chief and high school drama teacher (though sacked for turning on with his students), who duly shows up and makes himself at home in the fancy house lent Charlie by a wealthy friend.
Drinks proliferate, and talk becomes more agitated as Charlie claims to have killed six people and claims to be a fighter pilot in both the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts. Myron is skeptical and even more ironic than Emma, who likes but does not love him. There is a three-way tension that soon becomes four-way with the arrival of extremely sexy Kim, 22 and stunning. A jolly call girl who calls herself an escort, and who was hired by the house’s owner to provide depressed Charlie with sex and a lease on life. An adorable mixture of naïveté and raunchiness, she staggers the others when she accedes to stating her enormous fee.
The action is periodically interrupted by the brief closing of those panels, onto which are projected telling episodes from the characters’ past, each revealing a guilty secret. They feature noted actors Kevin Conway, Tony Goldwyn and S. Epatha Merkerson. But no less persuasive is the live quartet of Justin Bartha (Charlie), Krysten Ritter (Emma), David Wilson Barnes (Myron) and Ana Camp (Kim).
It mostly comes down to witty dialogue. Take this. “Kim: I thought I had crabs once, but it turned out to be just scabies. Emma: What are scabies? Kim: They’re these tiny microscopic bugs that crawl under your skin and take tiny microscopic shits. So you start to itch and get rashes all over.” Or this, about Charlie’s alleged past: “He has flown hundreds of sorties to Iraq. Kim: Why would a sorority want to go to Iraq?” Or Myron’s comment on Charlie’s trying to pass himself off as something more than he is just before offing himself: “It’s like a drowning man wanting the lifeguard to know he’s a good swimmer.”
Braff, who among his diverse credits counts a major role on television’s Scrubs, has mastered insouciant, in-your-face, scabrous comedy, has written a play that goes a step or two beyond TV farce,, and Peter DuBois has directed its attractive cast for maximum verbal and emotional hijinks. Alexander Dodge’s set is the last word in sophistication, and Bobby Frederick Tilley’s costumes, like Japhy Weideman’s lighting, have all the needed dash.
You may call All New People slick and two-dimensional, but it will keep you amused for a couple of hours, which is more than the fifteen minutes of happiness that, according to Emma, is all that is allotted any of us.
Danny Aiello. Photo by and courtesy of Ben Hider.
The Shoemaker, at the Acorn Theatre on West 42nd Street, by the prolific, improbably named Susan Charlotte, is a commonplace two-act play that tries to capitalize on both the Holocaust and the Twin Towers, not to mention a dead father who talks to the protagonist out of his shop’s walls. This protagonist is a first-generation Italian-American Jew, who has a relationship of sorts with two of his female customers. He also keeps going on about his brilliant but willful daughter.
There is not an ounce of originality to recommend the work (the playwright’s, not the shoemaker’s), which was originally a one-acter and then, incredibly a movie, which, however, no one I know has seen. All three versions have starred that fine actor Danny Aiello, who is good even here, although the two women, Alma Cuervo and Lucy DeVito, do not manage to transcend their roles in this cobbled-together would-be shocker.
Photography by and courtesy of Joan Marcus.
John Simon has written for over 50 years on theatre, film, literature, music and fine arts for the Hudson Review, New Leader, New Criterion, National Review, New York Magazine, Opera News, Weekly Standard, Broadway.com and Bloomberg News. Mr. Simon holds a PhD from Harvard University in Comparative Literature and has taught at MIT, Harvard University, Bard College and Marymount Manhattan College.
To learn more, visit the JohnSimon-Uncensored.com website.