Regrets, a quintessentially American play by British playwright Matt Charman, is the story of four men trying to outrun their pasts by staying in the same place. The setting is a novel one: a Nevada desert outpost in the 1950s where men come to live in order to establish the necessary residency for a divorce, a way station between a past they'd like to forget and a future they want to avoid.
Caleb (Ansel Elgort), an 18-year-old boy hiding from problems far beyond his years, is the latest addition to the community, which operates a bit like a summer camp for adults. He joins timorous pet shop owner Alvin (Richard Topol), antagonistic store detective Gerald (Lucas Caleb Rooney), and Ben (Brian Hutchison), the de facto leader and the play's occasionally miscalibrated moral compass. They cook meals, play cards, shoot the breeze, play cards again anything that helps move along the day, the highlight of which is a visit from Chrissie (Alexis Bledel), a local girl who makes her living by offering herself to the men passing through.
It's a bit of a makeshift family, jerry-rigged together by circumstance, but the interactions among its members ring true with a warmth and believability that outstrips the archetypal limitations of the characters. Ben is by far the most intriguing resident, a war veteran and former schoolteacher who radiates a gentle authority but who has been living at the camp in utter stasis for three years, unwilling to return to his old life or start a new one. Over that time, he's formed a parental bond with Chrissie and a mutual respect with Mrs. Duke (Adriane Lenox), the black proprietress whose punctilious rule-making belies a genuine affection for her tenants.
Charman dovetails his characters' personal problems and responsibilities with national ones when a G-man (Curt Bouril) shows up to investigate Caleb's possible ties to the Communist Party. It's a smooth thematic transition, but structurally feels like a left turn, and there's a noticeable asymmetry to the two acts.
The stage design by Rachel Hauck, on the other hand, is fantastic, making the most of limited space and fitting in three cabins (one in cross-section) while still having everything feel open. Similarly, Ben Stanton's lighting design is gorgeous, evoking slate-gray dawns and golden magic hours, and using shadow to give depth to the staging. The actors can quite literally inhabit this space, a factor that lends naturalness to storytelling that might otherwise feel a little forced and stilted. You almost believe that these men have been living with each other for weeks, using each other to distract from themselves and building a brotherhood in purgatory. B+
(Tickets: CityCenter.org or 212-581-1212)