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Zach Braff Scrubs off a new script

When he wrote, directed, and starred in the quirkily engaging 2004 film GARDEN STATE, Zach Braff established himself as a triple threat clearly bent on helping hyphens make a big comeback. But apparently what the Scrubs guy really wanted to do was write a play—just write it—and he’s done just that with “All New People,” his new comedy opening at New York’s Second Stage Theatre.

The play’s lead role—a depressed man in search of humanity—could have been a great fit for Braff, but he was talked out of doing it so he could keep his eye on the written page instead. (And he got an outside director, too. He’s not greedy.)

Justin Bartha (from THE HANGOVER) plays a guy who thinks he killed six innocent people (long story) and tries to hang himself in a friend’s beach house in the dead of winter as Riverdance music plays (that would make me suicidal too). But he doesn’t off himself, it turns out. He can’t because, coincidentally, in comes a wacky British real estate agent (Krysten Ritter) who has the keys, and then a firefighter (David Wilson Barnes), and finally an escort that Bartha’s friend sent for him without warning (Anna Camp), and they all chatter and do pratfalls and reveal their flaws and charms and ultimately cheer him up.

As the real estate gal pops “happier” pills (she can’t afford “happiest”), the firefighter reveals himself to be a coke-loving ex-drama teacher, and the prostie turns out to be an aspiring singer/songwriter who says ditsy things and is glad to finally have a john who doesn’t look like Larry King.

The whole thing bounces along—and there are swell interstitial film segments with guest stars like Tony Goldwyn and S. Epatha Merkerson—but a little sitcommy monotomy sets in due to the artificiality of the play’s setup. And when it veers from wacky hijinks involving four strangers who shouldn’t really belong together to cornball sentiment about the meaning of love and life, it’s a bit too facile.

Still, Braff has a gift for gab and for character twists and kooky lines, and he should definitely keep at it. Of course, if you wouldn’t be caught dead in a legitimate theater you can just wait and see him in the prequel to THE WIZARD OF OZ called OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. Sam Raimi is directing it and other people wrote it.

Image credit: Jan Thijs