Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Regrets: The Men of 1950's Nevada

Regrets* by Matt Charman and directed by Carolyn Cantor offers a window into a fascinating period in American history but struggles to emotionally connect the characters to the themes in the most effective way. 

The story is set in 1954 in Nevada as a group of men wait out their six weeks time in a rustic cabin encampment so they can get their Nevada residencies for their Reno divorces.  New arrival Caleb (Ansel Elgort) shakes things up with long-time resident and de-facto leader of this camp Ben (Brian Hutchinson), pushover and worry-wort Alvin (Richard Topol) and tough-guy Gerald (Lucas Caleb Rooney).  Mrs. Duke (Adriane Lenox) manages the camp and spends much of her time chasing local girl Chrissie (Alexis Bledel) off the premises.

Charman sketches out some interesting characters which the actors go to far lengths to flesh out.  Brian Hutchinson does a great job of creating a character demanding honesty from others but keeping his own secrets.  Although Alvin and Gerald seemed to be more archetypal than individualized, the actors gave them more dimensions.  Ansel Elgort is a high school student making his Off-Broadway debut.  He held his own in fine company but since the character is designed to be an enigma, his performance is very subtle (arguably underplayed or underwritten--it's hard to tell which is the problem).  Adriane Lenox was great as the no-nonsense woman who runs the camp.  I thought the scenic design was fantastic giving the feel of a real camp site and the intimacy of these men living on top of one another in rudimentary conditions.  All the creative elements worked well together. 

The camaraderie and tension between the men was genuine and believable but when the stakes were raised, the play and the characters began to falter.  I struggled to understand how the play's "set-up" melded with the play's "reveal."  What the first Act revealed about these characters did not necessarily resonate in the second Act when the characters were challenged.  Though the material was thoughtful and something I had not seen explored before in this way, it did not deliver the necessary emotional payoff.  Nevertheless, the writer explores interesting facets of male friendship, loyalty, honesty, thoughts about divorce in the 1950's and other larger historic issues.  It's a worthwhile production to check out, even if it does not necessarily connect up all the pieces.

*A complimentary ticket was provided to me for this production.

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