The End of Longing: Longing for the End
Matthew Perry wrote The End of Longing, a new play getting its NYC premiere at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. I’m not sure what the background of the story, nor do I know much about Perry’s own struggle with addiction, but I get the sense that this is a very personal story. I only know as much as anyone does about his life, as he is a well-known actor from the iconic sitcom, “Friends” (1994-2004) and his life troubles have been widely circulated in the press. While playing the hilariously charming Chandler Bing for all those years, Perry struggled with addiction, and I can’t help think that this play is a product of his attempt to come to terms with himself and his behavior during those years. The sad part is, this exercise in playwriting doesn’t do the topic justice. It swirls around a television personality telling a typical story that is drunk on its star power, stroking his own ego, while losing all attachment to reality.
As directed shabbily by Lindsay Posner, Perry wants us to believe that these people he surrounds himself would put up with this annoying drunk. Jack, the cartoon character played by Perry, is devoid of any of the charm of Chandler, while still trying to parlay his wise-cracking self. It is a thinly masked expose of a celebrity; in this story he is not a successful TV actor but a successful photographer for Rolling Stone, who meets and somehow gets an extremely beautiful but defended high-end escort to spend the night with him. How this is possible based on the scene that leads up to them waking up together is beyond my imagination. Jennifer Morrison (ABC’s “Once Upon a Time“) tries her best playing the escort who has intimacy issues, naturally, but somehow decides that Perry’s Jack is the man that she will try to overcome those issues with. Their chemistry together, while totally lacking any sexual spark, is confusing, as we are asked to believe that she is smitten with this drunken mess, and continues to invite him into her life, free of charge. Yes, Perry wrote a character for himself where he is just sooo appealing, that a gorgeous high-end prostitute would fall for him completely. Because the sex is so good. And he is so charming.
The redeeming part of this mess of a play, is in the secondary characters. Both total stereotypes but played with such heart and commitment that we can’t help but love them. Stephanie’s best friend, the neurotic Stevie, played with a wondrous edge of violence and confusion by Sue Jean Kim (PH’s Aubergine) falls for Jack’s best friend, the adorable (and slightly Joey-like) Jeffrey. The handsome Quincy Dunn-Baker (Signature Theatre’s The Wayside Motor Inn) gives us a Jeffrey that is both simple in his view of the world, while also being wise emotionally. It’s such a stereotype but Dunn-Baker does quite the job turning that dialogue that he (and the rest of the cast) has been ladened with into something that rings true enough that we care for these two and their relationship, far more than the two leads.
Designed with a cool efficiency by Derek McLane, costumed well by Sarah Laux, and lit decently by Ben Stanton, The End of Longing gets the star treatment by the MCC Theater. It caters to the grandiose identity of a television star’s awkward attempt to get real and deep with us. But with no real believability between the two leads, and no dramatic arch that we can get behind beyond the secondary plot, this feels like a huge waste of time, energy, and money. It needs a strong assist from a caring writer, a better lead actor, and a firmer grasp on reality. And then, and only then, I might not just be longing for this play to end.