A suicidal man; a pill-popping, illegal alien realtor; a drug-dealing fireman; and a high-end “escort” all end up in a Jersey Shore house on a snowy winter evening. Such is the premise of the Zach Braff-penned, Peter DuBois-directed play, All New People.
Braff, who already proved his writing prowess with Garden State, carefully mixes sitcom and satire with influences of Simon and Sarte. The snappy dialog and bevy of one-liners are extremely well-scripted, and thankfully, each member of the very Hollywood cast—The Hangover‘s Justin Bartha; the charismatically quirky Krysten Ritter; the bubbly True Blood-vet Anna Camp; and the classically trained David Wilson Barnes—has the kind of impeccable comedic timing required to pull them off.
For all of the laughs, however, All New People also has some flaws. The first major issue (which, to be fair, in many people’s eyes might simply be seen as cogent to the theme of questionable identity that runs throughout the play): Krysten Ritter’s accent. From the moment she opened her mouth there was the question of “What the hell is that supposed to be?” The question remained until she answered it herself, quipping, “Thanks, I made it myself,” in response to a compliment.
The second issue: intrusive video flashbacks providing the characters’ true back-stories. While an innovative solution to composing weighty exposition, each time the screen dropped was a rude intrusion into the developing group dynamic. All New People is a play that rises and falls with the strength of the ensemble, and by breaking the illusion of the fourth wall with a physical barrier, Braff and DuBois cut off the audience’s ability to relate to these people. We, along with rotating members of the quartet on stage, spend half the play trying to figure out why Charlie (Bartha) is suicidal, why Emma (Ritter) has fled Britain, why Myron (Barnes) is no longer a teacher, or what has driven Kim (Camp) to prostitute herself, only to have the information handed to us from some omniscient cameraman instead of confessed from each character’s own mouth. It removes the weight from their revelations, and instead relegates the information a relatively unemotional blip on the radar of some otherwise lovely performances. If the actors had been allowed to play out these secrets, instead of just reacting to their presentation, the story would have been stronger for it.
The play’s strengths are its comedy and charm, and the way in which the four actors on stage respond those elements. Its weaknesses: believability (there are many people who are going to think the scenario presented is simply too far-fetched) and a glossing-over of some of the more poignant elements. It’s almost as if Braff was holding back, afraid to allow the kind of sweet genre-spillover that worked so well for him but was named “twee” in Garden State. Still, Braff’s potential as a writer, though yet to be fully realized, is evident.
All New People isn’t perfect, but it is extremely funny, entertaining, and, despite my criticisms here, even touching. It’s a celebration of strangers bonding, an exploration of crises navigated, a comedy with some tragic persuasions, and a fine time at the theatre.
All New People runs until August 14th at Second Stage Theatre in New York.
Image Credit: Joan Marcus for secondstagenyc