When Broadway isn’t busy being a temple of high art, it’s more of a transient hotel, with the oddest characters showing up for short stays. The Lyceum seems to attract a lot of these marginal types, and few of its tenants have been as marginal as Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland, two Upper West Side geezers who opened there tonight in a play-cum-comedy-act called Oh, Hello on Broadway. Faizon is the short one, in dark-green corduroy trousers with the tail of his Hawaiian shirt poking through the fly; he’s also wearing a distressed-to-the-point-of-inconsolable leather jacket, an “I voted” sticker, a chai chain, and open-toe sandals with white socks. He describes himself as “a Tony-award-viewing actor” and is every bit as annoying as that sounds. “Whether I live in your building or not,” he says, “I’m somehow on your co-op board.” St. Geegland is the tall one, in olive cords, a turtleneck and cardigan and plaid blazer, with accoutrements that include a hospital bracelet and glasses on Croakies. “I am neither Jewish nor a woman,” this supposed playwright explains, “but like many older men over 70, I have reached the age where I am somehow both.”
Fossils of an imaginary heyday when losers were winners in a crumbling New York that could not tell the difference, Faizon and St. Geegland are actually the invention of Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, 30-something comics who met in college and retain a collegiate satirical stance. What they are actually satirizing through the medium of their hideously bewigged and age-spotted alter egos is sometimes a bit fuzzy; the characters are both in on the jokes and the butt of them. But either way the jokes are excellent, as they should be by now; the Broadway incarnation of Oh, Hello — sleekly directed by Alex Timbers — follows a sold-out 2015 Off Broadway run, a national tour, and almost a decade of development. (Kroll and Mulaney based the characters on two men they saw shopping at the Strand.) Along the way, the material has acquired a minimal plot, in which the rent on the “measly five-bedroom with crown molding” apartment at 73rd and Columbus that Faizon and St. Geegland have shared for 40 years is set to rise from $75 a month to $2,500. In order to keep enjoying their “god-given right” to this housing, the pair may have to compromise their artistic integrity by agreeing to take “Too Much Tuna,” a radio show they used to host, big-time on local-access cable.
It’s the kind of nonsensical setup that leaves the writers maximum latitude as to what they can build, but it also limits how strongly they can build it. The result is both delightful and shaggy, pointed and unmemorable. Most of the delight and pointedness come from the exemplary verbal polish of the scripted material, sometimes reflecting a debt to the stuck landings of Mike Nichols and Elaine May (“Theater is the hot thing right now. There’s Hamilton and no other examples”) and sometimes to the grab-ass opportunism of Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner. (“In this deeply haunted theater, so many great playwrights put up their work. Tennessee Williams and his sister Serena.”) The improvised material is iffier; where the script is armed with instructions like “TBD Richard Dreyfuss jokes” and “ad lib Desmond Tutu” the payload sometimes fizzles. At the press preview I attended, an impromptu bit in which Faizon tried to get St. Geegland to name any August Wilson play tried too hard to achieve Gary Johnson resonance. But the inherently comic conception of these superannuated zhlubs with their matching pretensions generally smooths over the gaps. It’s hard not to laugh at the running motif of their affected mispronunciation of ordinary words, like dialorg and Broadway, with a strong emphasis on the second syllable. In such silly moments the comic duo they most closely recall is Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, if both of those men had Jerry Lewis’s personality.
I doubt that Kroll and Mulaney are aiming for anything much bigger than that; if they were, they certainly wouldn’t have limited themselves to such inside-theater material, much of it redolent of naphthalene. (A set joke depends on your recollection of Boris Aronson’s 1964 proscenium design for Fiddler on the Roof.) As it is, the 90-minute evening is already a mite too long, and if it weren’t for a few self-contained, stand-alone bits, including an episode of “Too Much Tuna” and a celebrity cameo — a game Seth Meyers, the night I saw it — Oh, Hello on Broadway might be, like the “tunie” sandwich that arrives at a climactic moment, too soggy to enjoy. Luckily, we “comedy nerds and theater dorks” in the audience are too hungry for TBD Richard Dreyfuss jokes to be picky about the portions. And there ought to be enough of us to fill the Lyceum, at least until the next vagrants book it.
Oh, Hello on Broadway is at the Lyceum Theatre through January 8.