I imagine there is a first time for everything. There I was, sixth row on the aisle at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway, at an early performance of an evening called Oh, Hello On Broadway. I did not recognize the names of the stars, creators, and authors of the piece, and after reading their brief joint bio in the Playbill, I realized why. Nick Kroll and John Mulaney are two actors in their thirties, who write under the names of Gil Faizon and George St. Greegland. All they tell us is that they are artists/writers/comedians.
I later learned that bits and pieces, small sketches, of their work have been seen on Comedy Central and in a version of this show that had a short run in December 2015 at the Cherry Lane Theatre off-Broadway. It was such a success there that a consortium of producers in association with Comedy Central moved it to Broadway. And here’s where I come in. I had not seen the work of these two young actors/writers/comedians. Clearly a large portion of the house at my performance had. For the moment the houselights dimmed, and Messrs. Kroll and Mulaney moseyed on from the wings, pandemonium reigned. They were greeted by a huge hand, and for the next 100 minutes laughter followed in waves, erupting about every four or five words, sometimes at no words at all.
For 10 minutes or so, the two stood in their ragged corduroy trousers and heavily stained turtle necks, topped by their dime store wigs, which let us know that these two young actors were about to play old timers in their seventies, a couple of 40 year roommates who live in a $75 a month Upper West Side apartment from which they are about to be evicted because the rent is going to $4000.
The names of these alter-egos are Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland. There they were in front of the house curtain, chatting with us out front. Early on I had the feeling I was listening to a play in a foreign language because, though they spoke clearly and with much power, when the laughs continued to flow and then rock the rafters, I simply didn’t know what was supposed to be funny. I admit there were just a handful of us who sat stony-faced throughout. The woman behind me laughed so hard I think she burst a blood vessel, for she was having such a great time that it sent her off to the Ladies for reparations. She returned minutes later, and started laughing again in the aisle, before reclaiming her aisle seat.
As there was a recorded overture of rock and roll from the 1970s, including some of the band Steely Dan, I had expected a good deal of music, perhaps some song and dance, to follow. But no, they would sing a line or two now and then, but they themselves called their offering “a play” and when the house curtain rose we were in a room put together with bits and pieces of plays long gone, one of August Wilson’s, a trap door from The Diary of Anne Frank, even a front door stoop that makes no sense at all in a living room, but it is theatre, and that’s all it is meant to convey. They then told us tales of their habits and happenings on the ever changing Upper West Side of Manhattan, which they clearly love. They refer to “the coffee breath of our neighborhood” and that gets a big laugh too.
Never have I felt I was such a curmudgeon. I didn’t scowl or anything embarrassing, and I actually laughed when they had some improvised fun with a young person in the first row who tried to obsequiously go to the rest room during some of the dialog, but on the whole I just didn’t get it.
The play created by Faizon and St. Greegland has the loosest structure in history, and it left room for a ten-minute debate which was moderated by a surprise guest from the audience; in our case it was Willie Geist who is on the Today Show regularly. He had a hard time squeezing into the interruptions flung across the table, but he was a good sport and seemed to be having as much fun as the audience, which continued to laugh each time one of the stars pronounced Broadway as ‘Bred-wy,’ or homage as ‘homepage.’ As this was being presented as a play, so a director was needed, and Alex Timbers, two-time Tony nominated, joined the project to help shape the material.
With just two actors and one set, and a script that was made up mostly of one-liners, that meant keeping the actors from bumping into the furniture, so he proved useful. Scott Pask managed to create the kind of room in which these two oddballs might live, and Emily Rebholz was listed as “Costume consultant” because someone had to make certain the two outfits looked like they’d been lived in for months. She succeeded.
I know I’m way out of the mainstream on this one, so I must leave it to you. If you don’t have any history of this original team, it might be more difficult to get at what they are doing up there. But as I tromped up the aisle to hit the night air, I won’t deny that an awful lot of people were left behind me, making lots of appreciative noises.
Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.
Oh, Hello on Broadway plays through January 8th, 201, at the Lyceum Theatre – 149 West 45th Street, in New York, NY. For tickets visit the box office, call Telecharge at (212) 239-6200, or purchase them online.