Ginny Myers Lee and Kurt Rodeghiero in The Night Carter was Bad. Photo by Mike Klar.
What happens to a sensitive straight man who is unmarried and 30? What happens when you “don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”? How do you survive when you have boxed yourself into relationship situations that you aren’t sure you want, but you cannot see your way out of? And why do women occasionally sleep with gay men? The Night Carter Was Bad, written by the talented Ben Cikanek, tackles these questions and more in this Dinner With Friends-ish piece about romantic struggles in the Big Apple. Life mismanagement and a quarterlife crisis collide in this sexy and winning new comedy/drama, directed with vigor by Mike Klar and produced by the gutsy troupe Kids With Guns, and now playing at Theater C at 59E59.
I call Kids With Guns “gutsy” simply because under normal circumstances, the phrase “relationship dramedy” sends most folks I know running for the hills. And for good reason—who wants to watch a bunch of twenty/thirtysomethings whine about their unhappiness for two hours? But happily, Cikanek and Klar keep the tone of the play breezy and light during the proceedings and mine The Night Carter Was Bad for tons of laughs throughout. Cikanek has written a clever, smart script that never talks down to its audience and spins just enough twists to keep us engaged without getting lost or being too improbable. The Night Carter Was Bad is a grounded, real piece that generates a real empathy between the audience and the characters.
It certainly helps to have a terrific cast, led by the rogue-in-question Carter (a charming Kurt Rodeghiero) who is stuck in a tough live-in relationship with his needy girlfriend Annie (played with baby-doll pout by Rachel Jordan Brown). His gay roommate Nathaniel (a rousingly funny Tom Baran) keeps prodding his dancer friend Charlie (the disarming Ginny Myers Lee) to seduce Carter out of his bad relationship. Carter, it seems, is prone to having “bad nights” where he breaks out of his normal good-guy persona and chases another woman for an evening, only to always return to his relationship. It’s a pattern he can’t seem to break, and somehow he’s always managed to talk himself (and others) into accepting it. Charlie, by evening’s end, seems primed to break through his cyclical behavior by reminding Carter who he is at his core. That’s assuming, of course, that Carter can accept Charlie’s flaws, battle his own demons, leave Annie behind, and get over the strange relationship between Charlie and Nathaniel.
I can’t say enough good things about the unities of this production. The Night Carter Was Bad is living proof that the details in a story, as in at least one monologue from each character, can make old plotlines feel new and fresh. The sophistication of Cikanek’s writing and Klar’s direction adds oomph in unexpected places and pushes the piece past some of its more soap opera-y moments and into deeper, psychological territory. The cast ropes you in, charms you, turns you on your head, and sends you out the door wondering how Carter’s life will turn out. I highly recommend you go see for yourself what happens after The Night Carter Was Bad.
Review by Josh Sherman for nytheatre.com on October 1, 2008.