NAPLES — With “Regrets Only,” the Naples Players have put together one of their strongest ensembles ever, maybe the strongest I’ve seen here, to present a witty and urbane comedy.
Paul Rudnick’s play revolves around a wealthy couple, their daughter, and their best friend, a gay fashion designer. The purported central issue is gay marriage. The real message is that the only sensible response to life’s ups and downs is frivolousness. This is perhaps an easier lifestyle choice for multimillionaires than for most of us, but it is part of a noble theatrical tradition. Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward each made the same point in their own ways, and the world is better for it.
The cast is uniformly strong and assured in their roles, and director Paul Graffy has whipped them into a company. They are all well cast and they look terrific in the stylish costumes. They refrain from mugging and hamminess in roles that in other hands might have slipped into broad stereotypes. I’ll just mention them all: Janina Birtolo, Vic Caroli, Kathleen Gravatt, Matt Flynn, Jessica Walck and Ann Hoover. Caroli and Gravatt get more than their share of the juicy bits and the good lines, and they handle them just fine.
The set manages to be both stylish and substantial, while, miraculously, not overwhelming the space at the Tobye Studio. Flynn did double duty here, co-designing the set with Rick Foreman. Foreman and Flynn created a space that reflects the characters and their world.
Meanwhile, “Tuesdays at Morrie’s” was presented with the professionalism we have come to expect from the Gulfshore Playhouse. Wayne LeGetter plays Mitch Albom (the author of the book and co-writer of the play). Hal Robinson plays Morrie with warmth and humor. A two-person play is no cakewalk, but with these performers, one does not think about the acting challenge.
As to the play, everyone knows the story by now. I did not read the book. Dramatized, the predictability makes for a less than exciting time. I believe in the message and I am grateful to have had, and still have, Morries in my own life. That does not mean I can write a play about it.
There is something overly reminiscent of Hallmark Hall of Fame — the driven careerist seeing the light through exposure to the wise sage, and emerging a mensch. Even within this formula, the play lacks something. For someone who has had a life-altering experience, Mitch spends a lot of time reminding us just how rich and successful he is, and aside from his kindness to Morrie we do not see evidence of a lot of change in him.
The callous jerk is there, but so strongly presented that it is difficult to see the core of humanity that makes Morrie love this guy. At the risk of sounding like one of the cynics from “Regrets” (and with no implications intended about the real Albom, who by all accounts is a wonderful human being) in watching this play I was led to speculate that the character Mitch’s attentions to Morrie — which did not start until after Morrie had appeared on Dateline — might have had something to do with his perception that there was a book in it.