Among the usual grounds for divorce, the worst isn’t found in Regrets—a new play about men who legally end their marriages by relocating to Nevada for six weeks. Yes, there’s a little drunkenness and battering, as well as emotional cruelty, but none of it so extreme to warrant annulment. No, the rather antique-sounding reason for parting ways with this sleepy, unfocused period piece is nonconsummation. It starts as a middling portrait of postwar manhood and ends up a lukewarm tale of McCarthyist red-baiting. The play turns out to be as flat and arid as the desert in which it’s set.
Inspired by the real 1950s practice of unhappy husbands pitching up in Nevada for a spell to secure a no-fault divorce, Regrets could have been a melancholy series of character sketches and keen observations of midcentury American sexuality, à la William Inge. Instead, Matt Charman checks off a laundry list of period details (WWII vets, radio dramas, Red Scare, racism) and rolls out a banal group of types. There’s the mousy beta male (Richard Topol), the loutish ex-Army sergeant (Lucas Caleb Rooney) and the brainy, reluctant hero with a limp (Brian Hutchison). Into their midst comes the improbably young Caleb (Ansel Elgort), who seems too green to want a divorce. Alexis Bledel (formerly of Gilmore Girls) breezes through, inconsequentially, as a local prostitute. Mrs. Duke (Adriane Lenox) is the owner of the ramshackle resort where they’re staying. Her job is mostly to bark at their stupidity and roll her eyes at their weakness.
Charman, an English scribe with numerous Off-West End and BBC credits, writes competent enough dialogue, but never evokes genuine pain or gripping drama. With so many good American dramatists dying for a break, you wish that Manhattan Theatre Club would choose its partners more carefully.—David Cote