I hadn’t fully appreciated the wealth of talent that makes up the lanky frame of Jesse Eisenberg until watching him perform in his third play, The Spoils, at Trafalgar Studios. Of course I’ve seen his acting abilities displayed in various movies, most famously, The Social Network, but he is even more accomplished on stage. His latest manifestation is a dope-induced bundle of twitching energy, with a distinct lack of focus and an acerbic tongue. Written partly as an indictment of the lazy non-directional offspring of wealthy parents, who have no need or desire to do a proper day’s work, Jesse Eisenberg’s Ben could be one-dimensional. But so accomplished is this playwright’s dialogue and acting skills, that his character is so much more. He may be loathsome on the page, but, in performance Ben illicits sympathy as much as dislike.
Actually each of the five characters is tightly drawn (no caricatures here) and brought realistically to life by Kunal Nayyar, Alfied Allen, Katie Brayben and Annapurna Sriram. The quick, snappy dialogue Is realistic and, although the action only covers a few days of these young peoples’ lives, much is learned about them and what makes them tick.
Thanks to his wealthy father, Ben owns his own Manhattan apartment and shares it with Kalyan (Kunal Nayyar) a Nepalese business student who he subjects to much verbal aggression. Kalyan, living rent-free with this would be documentary film maker, who in truth has been kicked out of film school and spends his days doing absolutely nothing apart from rolling joints, is the antithesis of Ben. Sweet natured and hard working he has become Ben’s spiritual carer, constantly having to listen to his whiney meanderings. But, unlike Ben, the “immigrant” is in a relationship. The girl in question is a pushy medical student called Reshma (Annapurna Spiram) who doesn’t hide her dislike of her boyfriend’s landlord. The status quo is compromised when Ben bumps into Ted (Alfie Allen), an elementary school acquaintance of his. Now a Wall Street trader, Ted has become engaged to Sarah (Katie Brayben) on whom Ben had a crush when they were eight years old.
Following an excruciatingly awkward dinner party, with Kalyan, Reshma and the two new found friends, we discover the extent of Ben’s arrested development and problems. Engineering a meeting alone with Sarah, Ben cringingly re-lives in graphic detail a childhood sexual dream he had about her. Cringeworthy in the extreme, this recollection makes the audience wince and laugh in equal measure. Not the way to win the girl!
Increasingly coming apart at the seams, Ben’s isolation intensifies and Eisenberg allows you to see the loneliness that underpins the constant jibing and jokes at everyone’s expense. He is the ultimate social misfit for which one can almost feel sorry.
All five characters are well drawn and believable and, the contrast between each one, helps to highlight the ineptitude of the compelling Eisenberg. All in all this character driven play with an ending that just manages to be unsentimental, is one I highly recommend.