Courage is contagious in “Regrets,” Matt Charman’s affecting, if slow-moving drama at the Manhattan Theatre Club.
It’s 1954 and three men are living in cabins near remote Pyramid Lake, Nevada. They’re staying at least six weeks to satisfy the state’s residency requirement for a quickie divorce.
Bullying out-of-work store detective (Lucas Caleb Rooney) likes to quiz the others about their favorite meals and the most annoying habits of their soon-to-be exes.
He’s joined by a former high school teacher who ghostwrites student exam papers (Brian Hutchison) and skillfully reads faces; and a henpecked pet shop owner (Richard Topol) who yearns for marital reconciliation.
Enter a tall, evasive 18-year-old from Los Angeles (Ansel Elgort), a refugee from the film business. Strikingly young to be divorcing, he’s well-read, principled and protective of gorgeous 21-year-old Chrissie (Alexis Bledel). She has been circulating through the group offering haircuts and more intimate services.
An unexpected intrusion brings out the best in all the men, cleverly mixing the personal and political. But even with Carolyn Cantor’s assured direction, the play drags. Most of it takes place outdoors, with Ben Stanton’s superb lighting conveying time of day.
The acting is generally splendid, particularly Adriane Lenox as owner of the “divorce ranch.” A high school student in his first professional stage role, Elgort is a magnetic presence destined perhaps for the multiplex. At a recent critics’ preview, he was still finding the shades of his character.
A young Briton, Charman has been produced at the National Theatre and elsewhere in London. “Regrets” marks a promising New York debut.
Through April 29 at 131 W. 55th St. Information: +1-212- 581-1212, http://www.nycitycenter.org. Rating: **
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(Philip Boroff is a writer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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