What if your best friend from third grade never stopped acting like an eight year old? That is the dilemma faced by those closest to Ben, the central character of The Spoils. As written and performed by playwright/actor Jesse Eisenberg, Ben can certainly be witty, but he is also cruel, directionless, and socially retarded. It’s hard to imagine that these sweet people don’t have anything better to do with their time than hang out in this jerk’s apartment.
Therein lies the problem with this entire effort. For a drawn-out 140 minutes we witness two relatively healthy couples — who clearly have enough on their plates — trying to help Ben get his life together and treat them with a modicum of respect. Puns are punned, recollections are recalled and banter is banted, all with a side of Nepalese beer. Much of it is clever, but none of it leads to anything resembling a satisfying conclusion.
Eisenberg portrays the lead with much of the same disconnection and twitchiness that worked so well in The Social Network. His oddness is magnified by Scott Elliott’s uneasy direction. (Perhaps Mr. Elliott had some bizarre classmates when he was young and drew on these memories when he devised Ben’s peculiar physical conduct.) The supporting cast (Erin Darke, Kunal Nayyar, Allapurna Sriram and Michael Zegen) all deliver their lines with appropriate zing. Nayyar is particularly touching in the nearly-impossible role of Ben’s best friend, Kalyan.
Mr. Eisenberg is bright and talented. It’s hard to believe he doesn’t have six other better scripts on his nightstand and superior writing examples on his hard drive. Why he would chose to send eight weeks embodying a guy whose most cherished memory revolves around getting defecated on is my second unanswered question associated with this production.
The Spoils, presented by The New Group, is playing at the Pershing Square Signature Center through June 28, 2015. For tickets and information, visit http://www.thenewgroup.org/the-spoils.html.