Sunday, May 22, 2016

11. Review: ROSS & RACHEL (seen May 18, 2016)

“The One Where He Learned Who Ross and Rachel Are”

Stars range from 5-1.
Lucy and Ricky. Check. Ralph and Alice. Check. Dan and Roseanne. Check. Cliff and Clair. Check. Homer and Marge. Check. Ross and Rachel. Duh? Yes, for whatever reason (perhaps I was “on a break”), I never watched “Friends” during its 10-season, 236 half-hour episodes run; while I could tell you the names of every one of its stars, I had no clue about the characters they played. At least not until I saw James Fritz’s Ross & Rachel—a 55-minute, one-woman play starring Scottish actress Molly Vevers, directed by Thomas Martin—and discovered that Ross Geller and Rachel Green (played on TV by David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston) are just as iconic as any of the others I’ve mentioned; maybe, for millennials, even more so.
Molly Vevers. Photo: Alex Brenner.
Since much of Ross & Rachel has internal references to the sitcom, what I got from it while watching was peripheral to say the least; a trip to Wikipedia helped a lot. (The same thing might have been true for some seeing David Adjmi’s 3C, a parody of “Three’s Company,” several seasons back; Ross & Rachel’s relationship to “Friends,” though, is more oblique.)
Molly Vevers. Photo: Alex Brenner.
Apart from its title, Ross & Rachel, an Edinburgh Fringe success imported for the current Brits Off-Broadway Festival at 59E59 Theaters, never actually mentions those names, so we only infer that the couple at its heart are Ross and Rachel, elements of whose famous on-again, off-again love life it uses to explore the potential dark side of their marriage; certainly any fan of “Friends” hearing mention of a dinosaur tie, a lobster, a prom queen, Princess Leia, and so on, would appreciate it on a completely different level. Fans also would be intrigued to learn how the playwright imagines what eventually happened to Ross and Rachel—if it’s them—although they might not appreciate the way Fritz destroys the superficial image of their love perpetuated by TV's sitcom culture.
Molly Vevers. Photo: Alex Brenner.
59E59’s tiny Theater C is arranged with its limited audience on two sides of a dark space (designed by Alison Neighbour) dominated by a low ring filled with around a half-inch of water surrounded by small candles. Vever, an attractive young brunette with a light Scottish accent, enters barefoot and wearing a knee-length white robe, looking like she might be a spa guest. I’m really not sure why; perhaps because it comes in handy when she splashes about in the pool.
Molly Vevers. Photo: Alex Brenner.
The words quickly begin pouring forth but it takes some moments before we realize she’s playing two roles. I often found it difficult to tell just who I was listening to, or even which was a male and which a female voice. An air of surrealism, enhanced by Douglas Green’s ethereal lighting, pervades the nonlinear structure and often rapid-fire, back and forth dialogue, with its frequent interrupted or incomplete sentences.

We learn that the woman has just celebrated her 45th birthday, that she’s a beauty and her husband (obsessed with her looks) a nerdy professor, that she’s flirting with a fellow worker, that the marital relationship everyone thinks is wonderful is—despite the presence of a daughter—boring and unstable, and, most significantly, that he’s got a fatal brain tumor which makes her think hopefully of life without him while he, unable to think of her with other men, hopelessly contemplates a selfish conclusion. 
Fritz’s writing is vivid and offers Vevers many opportunities to display a wide range of emotional choices, but even had I appreciated the references to “Friends,” the material is too slender to have made much difference to me one way or the other. It did, however, get me to watch some "Friends" scenes on YouTube, an experience that, I regret to say, didn't inspire me to consider binge-watching its 118 hours, which would have occupied nearly five days of my life. I guess you had to be there.


59E59 Theaters/Theater C
59 East Fifty-Ninth Street, NYC
Through June 5