“The Nap” has come to Broadway with a mission to popularize the sport of snooker.
The first challenge: explaining what it is.
Simply put, snooker is a version of pool that originated with British officers stationed in India in the late 1800s. Snooker is played on a 12 foot by six foot table, larger than the typical billiards table, and players are awarded points for shooting balls in a specific sequence.
The sport later took hold in England, where it was seen as a game for the gentry and those who aspired to join that social order, but it has since been falling in and out of favor.
That’s where Richard Bean came in. Bean, author of the play “One Man, Two Guvnors,” grew up playing snooker with his father in northern England. He was asked to write a play about the sport by the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, England, which hosts the World Snooker Championship for a few weeks out of its theatrical season.
Bean turned the theater down for a couple of years, saying that actors could not play snooker.
“It’s the most difficult game,” Bean said.
The third year he was asked, he said yes. Bean had been struck by the idea that the play could center on match fixing, and therefore would only need one actor to attempt a few shots while facing an opponent, played by a professional snooker player.
In this production, which opens on Sept. 27 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, that actor is Ben Schnetzer, who is making his Broadway debut after a few months of taking snooker lessons from his castmate, Ahmed Aly Elsayed, a four-time U.S. National Snooker champion. In between lessons, Schnetzer read books and watched documentaries and videos of the sport to try to get the choreography down.
“YouTube is the actor’s gift,” Schnetzer said.
Though he only has to play a few shots, on a regulation-sized snooker table on stage, Schnetzer’s skills are crucial to the outcome of the play, as the ending changes depending on whether he can make the winning shot.
“Every night the play might end differently,” Bean said.
Elsayed’s snooker skills are more assured, and he comes to the role with some stage experience from his youth. Playing the sport and putting on demonstrations at the club has also given him a flair for the dramatic.
“I’m performing all the time,” Elsayed said.
Schnetzer has also become “pretty good” at the sport, according to Bean, but as Schnetzer notes, even professional basketball players miss freethrows.