Allen Warnock and Andrea Alton as Carl and Shelly (respectively).
BOTTOM LINE: A comedy that is both sweetly odd and oddly sweet
Carl & Shelly, Best Friends Forever is the work of Andrea Alton and Allen Warnock, and arose out of characters they developed in their sketch comedy group Freedumb. Over the course of this piece, Alton and Warnock play four characters each, but you can tell that their hearts lie with their main characters. Carl and Shelly are two awkward misfits who, until finding each other, have presumably spent a lot of time alone, living parallel lives. Initially bonding over their shared interest in 80's television and Kurt Vonnegut novels, they developed a public access show called "Poetry Craft Corner," in which they read poems and show off handmade artwork. For an example of the silliness of this show, a key poem-cum-craft is called "Baked Potato Surprise From the Sky."
Carl & Shelly, Best Friends Forever originally debuted at the 2008 New York Fringe Festival, and gets a fuller production here. While the sets and costumes are likely more developed than they were in August, Carl and Shelly still has that feeling of the Fringe - homespun and more than a little bit quirky. For the most part, this is a good thing. Alton and Warnock wisely hone in on the heart of these two characters, bringing out their friendship, but also their somewhat twisted humor. The characters of Carl and Shelly could easily become outlandishly campy or else bizarre freaks, but Alton and Warnock are skilled enough at both writing and performing that Carl and Shelly are always rooted in an extremely identifiable sense of insecurity.
Alton and Warnock also play other characters, including the hosts of competing public access television shows (like the Home Prescription Pill Shopping Network). While these other characters allow for some hilarious wig and costume choices, they are more one-dimensional than Carl and Shelly. And because these other characters require costume changes, they end up slowing down the pace of the show. Director Janice L. Goldberg fills these transitions in with recorded answering machine messages (also voiced by Alton and Warnock) and video clips, so there is always something to watch. However, some of these bits (like a message from Carl's aunt) don't have anything to do with the rest of the show, and they soon lose their charm.
As is sometimes the case with shows that transfer from the Fringe, Carl & Shelly, Best Friends Forever sometimes feels a bit bloated, as if elements were added just because there was more money available. Of course, this might also be because this piece is based on sketch comedy, a field in which something that works for five minutes doesn't necessarily translate into a full-length piece. However, I think the core of this play - the relationship between Carl and Shelly - is both hilarious and quite moving. While I walked out feeling that the play was too long, I still wanted to see more of Carl and Shelly together on stage, since the rapport between these two characters is the best part of Carl & Shelly, Best Friends Forever. And this makes sense – friends are often "best" when they're with each other, something with which I'm sure Carl and Shelly would agree.
(Carl & Shelly, Best Friends Forever plays at Theatre 3, 311 West 43rd Street, 3rd Floor, through February 28, 2010. Remaining performances are Thursday 2/18 and Saturday 2/20 at 8 pm, Sunday 2/21 at 3pm, Tuesday 2/23 at 7pm, Thursday 2/25 at 8pm, Friday 2/26 and Saturday 2/27 at 7pm, and Sunday 2/28 at 3pm. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased at theatermania.com or by calling 212-352-3101. For more information visit www.kaleidoscopetheatre.org.)