Jesse Eisenberg’s new play stages an acrid microcosm of today’s New York: teeming with the progeny of the wealthy and disdainful of its own history as a beacon for the aspirant underclass. In The Spoils, Eisenberg plays Ben, a film-school dropout who spends his time smoking pot and condemning the lives of others. A creation of pure, nebbishy id, his claim to a piece of New York derives not from talent or hustle, but inheritance: His dad bought him an apartment. Master of this small domain, he gratifies his largesse by letting Kalyan (Kunal Nayyar), a Nepalese immigrant, live with him rent-free while completing an MBA in development. But there’s a lot of emotional fine print here: Ben feeds off Kalyan’s ambition, and Kalyan starts putting Ben’s needs before his own.
With acid wit, and his well-established knack for playing jittery nerd roles, Eisenberg anatomizes the pretensions of “artists” like Ben, and, simultaneously, the new demographics of Manhattan’s mysteriously wealthy youth. They’re the victors, and to them goes the city.
But Eisenberg backs away from his scenario’s full implications. A soppy ending begs for sympathy for Ben on the grounds of unwitting generosity, relayed by that most suspect of messengers: the telling anecdote about his childhood. Even while doing bad, apparently, Ben does good. What’s a better definition of entitlement than that?