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Review: All New People

Writer Braff scrubs up nicely.

Duke of York’s Theatre, London WC2

    Zach Braff with Eve Myles in his funny but ultimately shallow play
    Zach Braff with Eve Myles in his funny but ultimately shallow play

    On the evidence of his new play, Scrubs star Zach Braff is a talented writer of dialogue but with little to say about being thirtysomething and living a life that apparently contains little worth living for. Though what he does have to say, he says with wit.

    A New Jersey beach house in winter is the setting for this fizzing little naval gazer. It begins in style with Braff's Charlie Bloom standing on a chair with his head in a noose. He is saved from himself by eccentric British estate agent Emma (Eve Myles) who is later joined by local fireman and drug dealer Myron (Paul Hilton), and by ditzy prostitute Kim (Susannah Fielding), sent by a concerned friend to cheer Charlie up. The strangers get high, chill out, confess their troubles and in the process draw their reluctant host out of his malaise.

    Scrubs fans will recognise Braff's use of sudden flashback. In the American sitcom the technique served as a portal to characters' imaginations. Here it provides our four misfits with a backstory, a vehicle which director Peter DuBois handles slickly with a massive screen for the filmed sequences.

    In one, Kim has sex and some very funny post-coital exchanges with Charlie's friend; another reveals that Emma is on the run and that Myron is a former high-school teacher who was fired for doing drugs with his students. When Charlie's story is revealed, however, it proves to be disappointingly thin.

    But getting to that point is a fair amount of fun. Braff, who has said that "sad Jews in New Jersey" are his speciality, has produced some rapier dialogue for his ultimately shallow play. There are exchanges worthy of Neil Simon, and a cheeky but effective use of Shylock's "Hath not a Jew eyes" speech, which is the best moment in the play. But it cannot hide some annoying holes in the plot. Would Charlie, who is clearly a well-educated Jewish boy, really not know the difference between Shylock and Sherlock? And what happened to the much-mentioned Jewish couple who were to rent the beach house?

    Still, with the help of some perfect comedy acting, the uninterrupted 90-minutes zips along entertainingly enough. As a playwright, Braff scrubs up pretty well.

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