by Jonathan Warman
Zach Braff’s comic play is diverting in a way that is the slightest cut above the sitcom. Or, looking at it from another angle, All New People is at its best when it’s a smart, gently poignant sitcom, and seriously strained when it goes for much more than that.
Thirty-something Charlie (Justin Bartha, looking surprisingly unsexy in a full beard) is deeply depressed, and a rich friend loans Charlie his summer house (in the dead of winter) on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, for some time away from the rest of the world. A parade of unusual characters interrupts his solitude, eventually brightening his dour worldview.
Braff’s plot relies a bit too much on clichés, though enough of the dialogue possesses a biting wit to paper over Braff’s most glaring gaffes. Helpfully, director Peter DuBois focuses squarely on the underlying sweetness of Braff’s characters and themes, a wise choice that brings out the best in the play.
Even that isn’t enough when Braff goes too dark, as with an unneccessary and thematically unproductive subplot about British real estate agent Emma’s reason for leaving England. It’s a fine line, though, because the reasons for Charlie’s depression are quite dark, and they fit very well. Emma’s troubles are simply a melodramatic bridge too far. Kudos to Krysten Ritter, who plays Emma, for doing her damnedest to make it all work.
There’s no question that Braff is an intelligent and accomplished comic actor of considerable range. As a writer, he shows a lot of promise, but All New People – touching and amusing as it occasionally is – is decidedly more promise than fulfillment. I don’t discourage you from seeing it; it’s not a painful experience. But I wouldn’t hold it against you if you decided to wait for Braff’s next play, which will probably be better.
For tickets, click here.
For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see his blog Drama Queen.