Mawkish, rudimentary and with the plausibility only found in Hollywood scenarios, The End of Longing was written by and stars Matthew Perry. Ardent and less discriminating fans of the long-running television situation comedy Friends that he starred in may be enraptured by it, anyone else less so.
Mr. Perry has certainly followed the maxim, “write what you know.” We follow the romantic and personal travails of four stereotypical, contemporary Los Angles types who have the financial resources for incessant self-examination. It’s a universe of meet cutes, overwrought emotional exchanges and happy endings.
At a trendy bar, we meet Perry’s character Jack. He is in his late 40’s, and is a photographer for Rolling Stone magazine. He is also the sort of severe alcoholic popular in the movies and on television. He drinks constantly, cracks wise, functions professionally, has comical encounters, and hits bottom.
Jack is there to meet his best friend Jeffrey, a construction worker in his 30’s. Their offbeat friendship is based on their playing for a softball team, where from his gym bag Jack produces a shaker, and pours a martini in the locker room.
Jeffrey is meeting up with his girlfriend. He has recently begun a complex relationship with Stevie, a 37-year-old pharmaceutical executive specializing in erectile dysfunction drugs. Also in attendance is her never explained best friend Stephanie. She is a gorgeous, 35-year-old blonde. We soon learn that she is a prostitute, “a high end escort.” Jack is immediately smitten with her, and a romance blossoms between the two.
“Why do you drink so much?” Stephanie asks Jack about half way through the play. His answer is because of his being jilted 20 years earlier by his one true love. “Why do you do what you do?” Jack asks Stephanie. It’s because she was abused by her father during childhood.
Now that their personal demons have been meaningfully explored in a few minutes, they can carry on with their involvement. However, a major disagreement soon splits them up, until a dramatic reunion brings them back together six months later. Of course, they’re now wiser.
James L. Brooks could have woven such patchy material into something with the sheen of significance, à la As Good as It Gets. Here, it’s strictly hollow.
The dialogue is peppered with profanity, references to Zoloft and valium, analyses of pornography, and a lengthy anecdote about masturbation. Perry’s characters are equally as trite, but are ably brought to life by the uniformly committed cast.
As Jeffrey, the bearded and athletic Quincy Dunn-Baker is good-natured but forceful when needed to be. Mr. Dunn-Baker’s strong performance transcends the faulty script.
Sue Jean Kim can’t be condemned for overdoing the neurotic abrasiveness of Stevie, as that’s about all there to this clichéd businesswoman with a ticking biological clock. The animated Ms. Kim is very effective.
Playing the part of Stephanie, the upper echelon call girl, is Jennifer Morrison who succeeds as much as possible with such a thinly realized character. The statuesque Ms. Morrison winningly conveys as much depth as is in her powers.
Though having created a negligible work of dramatic literature, Perry has written himself a roaring role. He employs his patented charm and idiosyncratic vocal delivery that he perfected as Chandler Bing on Friends, for optimum humor as well as for drama.
A late night visit to a pharmacy to obtain prescription drugs without a prescription is intended as a painfully harrowing monologue and is delivered to the unseen, unhelpful pharmacist. It borders on self-indulgence, as do his fierce and defensive outbursts throughout.
Perry became a star at the age of 25 when Friends first began airing in 1994. He’s been in rehab a few times and suffered health problems due to various addictions. These biographical facts unavoidably inform his role of Jack, and add the dimension of there being possible autobiographical elements to the character.
Now mature but still recognizable, the eternally likable Perry is also visually distant from the appearance he had during his boyish television heyday when he attained fame and fortune. So there’s also the fascination of seeing how a long-time famous person is holding up.
The play’s structure is a lazily choppy series of scenes alternating between the bar, characters’ residences, a drug store and a hospital. The production is technically proficient.
Derek McLane’s flashy scenic design gets a lot use out of a turntable and that keeps the show moving. The furnishings are all appropriate, and the whole stage is symbolically framed by a multitude of clear, empty bottles.
The frequent scene transitions are punctuated by composer Ryan Rumery’s blaring, original rock music. Mr. Rumery’s sound design is suitably jolting. Ben Stanton’s lighting design is a fine palette of stark brightness and dim moodiness. From jeans, to casual wear and dressiness, Sarah Laux’s costume design renders the quartet realistically.
The End of Longing premiered in London’s West End in February 2016, and had a 14-week limited run. Perry starred in it with a British cast. It was directed by Lindsay Posner, who directed Perry in his 2003 stage debut in London, in David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago.
Mr. Posner directed this production as well. Posner’s snappy staging, the sensitive performances, and the technically accomplished presentation do make this poor play watchable.
The End of Longing ends up really just having the curiosity value of experiencing a celebrity performer acquitting himself well in a deficient vehicle of his own design.
The End of Longing (through July 1, 2017)
Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.mcctheater.org
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission