Carl and Shelly, Best Friends Forever, directed by Janice L. Goldberg, is a joyous romp with two misfits, both still caught up in the culture of the 1980s. Carl and Shelly entice the audience to laugh at the foibles of their day-to-day lives and to feel real empathy for their friendship’s trials and tribulations. The play is a whirlwind of silliness, at times bordering on the ridiculous, but never without a great deal of heart and spirit behind whatever nonsense the protagonists get themselves into. When we meet Carl and Shelly, they are hosting their public access program, in which they read original poetry and present their arts and crafts projects. The two are clearly not gifted artists in either field, but they make up for what they lack in technical skill with energy and enthusiasm. The titular pair are also truly "BFF's;" they love each other’s strange artistic creations and share an affinity for the same television shows, movies, and music. They take us back in time to their laundry room meeting, where they initially bonded over Punky Brewster and Alf.
The play hinges on a tiff that ensues between the two regarding Shelly's sudden artistic success - she is invited to show her work in a New York gallery - and Carl's fanmail from an admirer. This central conflict is competent and compelling, but the play's real power lies in the two performers' energy and bravado. In each role that they play, Andrea Alton and Allen Warnock give strong, hilarious performances that keep the audience tuned in and looking for more.
The main story line is interwoven with presentations of some of the other public access programs. These scenes add an extra boost of laughs, particularly the Home Prescription Pill Shopping Network, which perhaps deserves a whole future play of its own. There are also phone calls received from offstage characters, such as their respective parents, which clarify some of the character backstory and act to cover the scene transitions.
The performers do a marvelous job of jumping between characters, creating unique identities for each. These secondary personages are all quite humorous and show off the actors’ physical and vocal skills. Despite the enjoyable nature of watching these two individuals create the entirety of the world that they inhabit, the transitions are long at times and the piece could benefit from some trimming.
The set is well dressed with accoutrements appropriate to people stuck in a time gone by. The stage is scattered with DVD sets of 80s programming, snack foods, and toys that these characters should have long since outgrown. The artwork that they share is both worthy of laughter for its amateurish design and somehow intriguing in its own right.
This is not a play that tackles hard-hitting political or social concerns. It is not designed to ask serious questions or to interrogate major issues. But this seeming lack of relevance is not a problem at all; the play actually feels quite relevant due to its exuberance. It reminds its viewer to be proud of whoever you may be, and to enjoy the company of those for whom you care most deeply. Overall, this play is a fun theatrical experience. It is a play designed purely to entertain, and from this perspective, it succeeds perfectly.