Review: Nick Jones' 'Verite' mocks writer's ambitions

AP News
Posted: Feb 18, 2015 8:33 PM
Review: Nick Jones' 'Verite' mocks writer's ambitions

NEW YORK (AP) — Editors interfere with writers' work all the time. Just ask any writer. But in "Verite," a dark new comedy by Nick Jones, a woman's vaguely mysterious editors seem to be directing her life in dark ways.

Jones, also writer and co-producer of the Netflix series "Orange Is the New Black," has certainly written funnier plays than "Verite," which was commissioned by Lincoln Center Theater and opened Wednesday night off-Broadway at the Claire Tow Theater.

This meta-fantastical look at how far editors and writers might go to achieve commercial success is laced with glib, twisted platitudes, but Jones' absurdist sensibility ("The Coward," ''Trevor") is dampened, and the plot is predictable and slow to take off.

A stay-at-home mom, Jo (Anna Camp, lively and intelligent), who writes children's fantasy fiction that nobody wants to publish, is lured into betraying her ethics for money dangled by a pair of foppishly funny, politely sinister book editors.

Despite a promising conceit and increasingly outlandish circumstances, director Moritz von Stuelpnagel doesn't sustain credible suspense, and the play feels tedious even after some well-telegraphed violence.

Matt McGrath as Andreas, and Robert Sella as Sven, provide expert and welcome comic relief as the manipulative editors who persuade Jo to write a memoir that's exciting and features bold characters, which is pretty much the opposite of her actual suburban New Jersey life.

Then they regularly pop up, with suspicious timing, to remind Jo in bad Scandinavian accents that she must make "interesting" choices to fuel her narrative and make it exciting. Jo is initially reluctant, but her husband Josh, played with successful boorism by Danny Wolohan, provides one of the most prescient lines in the play when he ill-advises Jo to take the money, saying, "Don't look a Trojan horse in the mouth."

Deciding that "being happy is a waste of my talent," Jo begins risky, out-of-character behavior to get "true" autobiographic material. Ebon Moss-Bachrach is clumsily appealing as her confusing suitor, Winston, an alleged old acquaintance that she can't remember. They embark on an illicit romance, which she briskly asserts is necessary for the book. In typically twisted dialogue, Winston earnestly tells Jo, "True connections never go away, especially if you haven't made them yet."

Jeanine Serralles is brassy fun as Jo's nosy sister-in-law, and Oliver Hollman, a fourth-grader making his professional theatrical debut, is charming as Jo's son.

"Being seen is even better than having something to say," Andreas blithely tells Jo. While that's a telling remark about social media, it unfortunately sums up the fact that this play hasn't got much of a message, either.