Young British theatrical wunderkind Matt Charman debuts new play, ‘Regrets,’ stateside, to little effect

Alexis Bledel and Ansel Elgort. (Carol Rosegg.)
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A camp in the Nevada desert—the type of place people went to in the 1950s to get a "quickie divorce"—is the setting for Regrets.

It’s the flip side to the ranch in The Women, where wives went to divorce their husbands. But unlike The Women, with its acid undertones, there aren’t many laughs this time: Regrets is entirely earnest.

The four men living in the wooden cabins, cooking dinner together over an open fire, are trying to pass the time as quickly as possible, and reveal as little of themselves as possible. But by the second act, after of the men is tracked down by government investigators and accused of being a communist, we find out just how much these men really know, or don’t know, about each other, and whether they’ll stick together with their newfound, temporary neighbors, or turn on one another.

32-year-old playwright Matt Charman is being hailed as one of Britain’s most promising young playwrights, with three commissions from the National Theater in London under his belt. But there’s not much about Regrets that’s promising: the characters are thin, the emotions are shallow, and neither of the play’s two distinctive subjects—divorce colonies and the McCarthy-era Red Scare—gets explored in any more depth than you’ll find in the average Wikipedia entry. There’s precious little drama or tension, beyond a couple of predictable scuffles over who burned the stew, or who’s screwing the local prostitute.

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A couple actors make the most of what they’re given; those who have less to say generally fare better, including Ansel Elgort as the mysterious, young newcomer Caleb, and Brian Hutchison as Ben, an avuncular gentleman who’s spent three full years in the camp—even though out-of-staters only need to stay six weeks to gain Nevada residency and get their divorces. Best of all, though, is Adriane Lenox as Mrs. Duke, the woman who runs the colony: She’s tough yet vulnerable, strict but still empathetic, and she delivers her lines, including the pregnant pauses, with subtle impact.

The set, too, deserves special mention. Rachel Hauck’s humble bungalows are gorgeous in their simplicity, arranged perfectly to give each tenant a measure of privacy—but not too much. And Ben Stanton’s lighting brings the set, and the whole desert in the background, to life. It’s a shame there’s not more there to see.

Regrets is showing at Manhattan Theatre Club – Stage 1, 131 W. 55th Street. Tickets are $80. Call 212-581-1212.