Matt Charman’s play Regrets depicts integrity as a question of standing up for principles beyond circumstances affecting your own life. In his New York debut, the 34-year-old British playwright revisits the McCarthy Era, posing the question: Would you protect your livelihood and that of your family, or name names?
The play is the view of a straight shooter, a solid, old-fashioned tale of virtues. No shocking, twisted plots or psychological layers obscure the simplistic yet reaffirming story of gaining the courage to stand up for your beliefs.
Three middle-aged men wait at a divorce ranch to meet the residency requirement for quick divorces in Nevada. Similar to adolescents stuck at a camp, they are homesick—but for pasts that will never be their futures.
Gerald (Lucas Caleb Rooney) is a big-mouthed, angry, swaggering man, with a bullying streak. He served in the Army, but after the war lost his store security guard job for breaking a man’s arm. Alvin (Richard Topol), worked in his family pet store in Queens. Gentle and timid to a fault, he was incapable of ever seizing what he wanted in life. Ben (Brian Hutchison), the calm, rational, de facto leader of the group, taught at a high school and earned a Purple Heart serving in World War II. He was divorced three years ago, but never returned to the outside world, calling the divorce ranch the “most honest place on Earth”. Everyone there has made mistakes, for which they have regrets. It’s the final stop, where there’s no more running. The ranch provides the grounds where the men must honestly confront their lives, but ultimately with consequences none could have imagined.
Caleb (Ansel Elgort), an 18-year-old electrician in the movie industry, joins the camp. Mrs. Duke (Adriane Lenox), an African American caretaker, runs her camp with stern rules, and a tough, yet gentle integrity. “I don’t clean up after you. I don’t cook for you and I don’t organize activities neither. This ain’t the Boy Scouts of America,” she tells Caleb. “[N]o girls. They’re not interested in you. They’re only interested in your money. This ain’t a bachelor party, ain’t the Wild West either.”
Hiding from Mrs. Duke, Chrissie (Alexis Bledel) a young, fresh-faced prostitute periodically visits the camp. Although Chrissie falls within an old-fashioned cliché of the prostitute with the golden heart, she effectively adds a gentleness, underscoring the unfairness of the harsh realities of the world.
Yet the real concerns of trouble with the law only begin when Robert Hanratty (Curt Bouril), an investigator for the House Committee on Un-American Activities, shows up wanting to question all of the men and threatening to serve a subpoena on Caleb.
Mrs. Duke sums up the heart of play when she describes Caleb. “My son is his age. And I’d like to think I raised him to have integrity and heart. To believe in things bigger than himself. This boy does. That’s still gotta mean something to you doesn’t it? Even out here”.
Regrets does not offer deep revelations or a rich discussion of the loyalty and responsibilities we do owe our spouses and families, in the context of moral compromises. Yet Charman and his well-cast actors know how to craft tension and dramatic suspense. Audiences leave with a reminder that regrets do not have to mean the end but can be a beginning. Even the most ordinary people can find the courage to be who they want to be.
Regrets by Matt Charman, directed by Carolyn Cantor; Manhattan Theatre Club—NY City Center Stage I; (212) 581-1212 or www.nycitycenter.org; though April 29.