The dead of winter, Long Beach Island, New Jersey, Charlie, has hit rock bottom. Away from the rest of the world, his ultimate escape is interrupted by a motley parade of misfits who show up and change his plans.
Following a painful breakup and subsequent meltdown at work, Charlie (Zach Braff) has retreated to a vacation house on Long Beach Island, N.J. owned by his wealthy friend Kevin. It being mid-winter in a summer colony, he expects to be left alone. No such luck. First to arrive is Emma (Eve Myles), a verbose British real estate broker with immigration-status problems, looking to rent out the house. Next comes Myron (Paul Hilton), a drama teacher-turned-fireman and drug-dealer (he prefers “purveyor of distractions”) whose love for Emma is unrequited.
Finally, in walks Kim (Susannah Fielding), a $15,000-a-night hooker sent by Kevin as a care package.
The play has become the highest-grossing drama of all time here at the King’s Theatre in Glasgow. Of its success Zach Braff said: “The response to ‘All New People’ in Glasgow is beyond my wildest imagination. I want to thank the people of Glasgow and the staff at the King’s Theatre for their wonderful support and generosity.”
The whoops and hollers from the audience last night proved that, if he didn’t already have them, he certainly made a few thousand more fans.
Reminiscent of Neil Simon’s early work “All New People” is full of quick fire banter and pop culture references. However, some criticism has been levelled at this play – for one – that it reminds you of a TV sitcom episode rather than a stage play, but Braff has a fine ear for comedic dialogue and the play strikes a fine balance between humour and melancholy.
In fact it was the moments of melancholy that showed what a fine writer Braff is, they were finely wrought and genuinely moving. It is also a great credit to Braff that he doesn’t have all the laughs or drama to himself, in fact his role is more of the supporting player who allows the others to shine. Hilton and Fielding are particularly good, playing their roles as characters rather than characatures, Miles, fares less well – she played it a bit broad and strayed into pantomime territory too much for me.
In Garden State, Braff’s independent film of 2004, he brought a gentler touch to themes that he re-uses here – the urge to numb ourselves to life’s emotional bruises and the desperate need to connect. Ultimately, All New People is highly entertaining as a comedy with serious overtones, about how strangers can become friends, and friends can become family, helping to heal life’s wounds. I hope that Braff learns from its faults and keeps writing plays – one day he might just hit the perfect note.