Eve Myles. Zach Braff, Paul Hilton and Susannah Fielding in All New People
(© the company)
Eve Myles. Zach Braff, Paul Hilton
and Susannah Fielding in All New People
(© the company)
Zach Braff didn't star in his play All New People when it premiered Off-Broadway at the Second Stage Theatre last year, but he has taken the lead role for its West End production. And despite his star turn, the piece is a disappointing and rather self-indulgent exercise in supposedly mordant comedy.

It begins in a promising enough manner, as Braff's Charlie is perched on a chair with a noose around his neck. He's about to kill himself when he's interrupted by nervy, motor-mouthed real estate agent, Emma (Eve Myles). She saves his life -- but then refuses to leave.

Charlie and Emma are joined in the isolated beach house by Myron (Paul Hilton), the local fire chief who does double duty as Emma's dope dealer, and by Kim (Susannah Fielding), a high-end "escort" who's been hired to entertain Charlie by his wealthy friend Kevin, the house's owner.

The seeds are sown for a jet-black comedy in which suicide, depression and prostitution are all ripe for exploration. But after an intriguing opening the play seems to tail off: the writing is slack and lazy, the characterizations never ring true, and there's something ugly and nasty about much of the humor. Indeed, there's something false and forced about each of the characters -- which no amount of dope and coke can account for -- and none of them interact in a way that proves convincing.

Braff's character is passive and reactive for much of the play, so when the focus shifts towards the end and Charlie's new friends try and convince him that he's a fundamentally decent guy and that life still has something to offer him, it feels awkward and unearned.

Moreover, each of the characters gets a little potted back-story, revealed via video projection, but these also all feel oddly unreal. The air of falsity is heightened by Myles' perky and grating Emma: her accent is jarringly unconvincing and she seems a little too determinedly kooky.

Despite a solid performance from Fielding, the character of Kim is so one-note it borders on the offensive. She's a dim blonde hooker and that's all she is; Braff's play even denies her the neatly packaged past trauma that it affords the other characters. Perhaps it's meant to be amusing that the most seemingly content of the quartet is the prostitute, but the moment in which she grants Myron a lingering feel of her breasts also slides over the line into unpleasantness.

The pacing of Peter DuBois' production is unforgivably sluggish despite a near-farcical quality at the start which also soon dissipates. What's most frustrating about the play is the fact that there are a good number of individually funny lines. There's no question that Braff can turn out a solid one-liner when he chooses, which only emphasizes the laziness evident elsewhere in the play.