As soon as I saw Alexander Dodge's excellent beach house set design for Zach Braff's All New People and read the premise - I was reminded of far better plays featuring mismatched characters and immediately - Abigail's Party and The Odd Couple spring to mind. Both of them make you laugh out loud, yet also balk in silence at some of the wickedly bittersweet lines.
Braff knows how to write an amusing piece of dialogue and the opening scene is a masterclass of comedy and leaves you with high expectations, willing him on. Sadly, there are only a few more funny scenes and they are not hooked onto anything resembling a believable narrative.
Worse still - the characters seem like something from a British sit-com from the 1970s. We have Charlie (Zach Braff) who is a suicidal soul searcher, uptight British and skittish Emma (Eve Myles), funny fireman Myron (Paul Hilton) and blonde escort Kim (Susannah Fielding). Quite why and how this bunch of stereotypes end up in a house together is simply not worth mentioning, as you will be past caring by the time of the lame denouement, as there is no valid connection between them.
Having them all in the same room is supposed to be farcical and make you chuckle but they are all such dated cliches that they simply leave you sighing or staring at your watch. Myles breathes life into Emma and delivers the lines with conviction but the role itself is a joke and not a funny one at that - as her character is a British cardboard cut-out nursing a secret which is shown to us via a huge video projection.
This is another problem, as the audience are treated like fools that need everything highlighted and underlined. Why doesn't Braff and director Peter DuBois allow the cast to act out the pain, instead of magnifying it onto a huge cinema screen?
Fielding, again does well and makes the audience laugh but Kim is such an awful part (the all time nadir is watching another character grope her breasts as a reward!) that you do wonder if Braff knows that he is writing in 2012 because in terms of female representation - these two are such throwbacks that you feel like you have taken a ride in Marty McFly's DeLorean and stopped off at 1975.
Braff is often sat at the back of the stage with his head in his hands - trying to emote. But his material gives him nothing to do but rant and rave like Nicolas Cage when he does 'angry'. And Hilton is just a foil for Myles' character and to enable a big reveal to take place that is as empty as a Long Beach Island winter.
If you want to see the star of Scrubs on stage, fair play to you as these big name vehicles can prove to be great pieces of theatre - Driving Miss Daisy and The Children's Hour are good examples but the source material gives the actors much to work with. Braff describes All New People as "The Breakfast Club for adults" but it has nothing new or original to say and the only thing it has in common with the John Hughes films is that it feels like detention.
What it does prove though, is that when it comes to Hollywood stars treading the boards and sharpening their writing pencils, sometimes all that glitters is not gold.