Saturday, June 17, 2017

28 (2017-2018): Review: THE END OF LONGING (seen June 16, 2017)

“Drunk Meets Girl”
Writing teachers often advise their pupils to write about what they know. It’s thus no surprise that popular actor Matthew Perry (best known as Chandler Bing on TV’s Friends), who famously underwent rehab for his drug and alcohol addictions, would somehow use that experience in writing his first play, The End of Longing

The sincerity of his intentions, however, doesn’t compensate for a woozy rom-com that isn’t quite able to walk the straight line without wobbling.

Jennifer Morrison, Matthew Perry. Photo: Joan Marcus.

Four characters populate the intermissionless, hour-and-45-minute play, which premiered in London and is being presented at the Lortel by the MCC. The most prominent is Jack (Perry), an alcoholic photographer who believes he functions best when he’s bombed, which also appears to be the only way he can control his DT shakes. He thinks he’s Mr. Charm personified, with an aptitude for shooting comic zingers that come off mainly as crass boorishness.

Someone who, for unexplained reasons, doesn’t seem to think so is the gorgeous Stephanie (Jennifer Morrison), whom he comes on to at a fancy LA bar/restaurant, where she’s accompanied by her jittery friend, Stevie (Sue Jean Kim), annoyingly agitated because some guy she’s slept with hasn’t texted her back in four hours. The guy turns out to be Jack’s buddy, Jeffrey (Quincy Dunn-Baker), a mildly dimwitted construction worker who’s head over heels for Stevie, a feeling we’re supposed to accept is mutual.

The play follows the swelling and ebbing romantic relationships between the two couples. Jack and Stephanie are conflicted because of his boozing and her work as a call girl commanding $2,500 an hour. He turned to the bottle 20 years before when a three-month affair with a woman went sour; her profession is vaguely related to her father’s abusive behavior. Jack, naturally, can’t admit he has a problem, while Stephanie makes too much dough as a sex worker to consider giving it up for something more respectable.

Stephanie may be a fancy hooker but, as written, played, and directed (by Lindsay Posner) she comes off more like the smart, beautiful girl-next-door who might just as easily be modeling or, as her mother believes, high on the corporate ladder at Calvin Klein. Why she would so quickly jump into bed with the vulgar, obnoxious Jack, with no monetary arrangement between them, is a question the play fails to answer. What exactly, one might ask, does he have that all her wealthy Johns are lacking? Booze breath?

The same could be said of the connection between the constantly angry, Zoloft-popping, self-doubting neurotic, Stevie, who works in the pharmaceutical industry, and her naive boyfriend, Jeffrey, by whom she gets pregnant. Kim is so screwed up she considers Jeffrey’s normalcy, that is, his not being in therapy, a drawback.
Sue Jean Kim, Jennifer Morrison, Matthew Perry, Quincy Dunn-Baker. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Similarly, the friendships between Jeffrey and Jack and Stephanie and Stevie lack basic credibility. Perry provides so little about these people apart from their most obvious characteristics, it’s hard to see them as little more than superficial figures whose principal raison d’être is to differ sharply from one another simply for the sake of contrast.

What starts out as a briskly paced comedy laced with smarmy one-liners and wishfully shocking dialogue—like the sophomoric way (“waxing the carrot,” “jerking a soda,” etc.) Jack describes his porn-watching behavior—gradually grows darker, with the dramatic highlight, like the 11:00 number in a musical, being Jack’s plea for help at an AA meeting. 

Perry may have had such an experience but what he delivers differs little from countless similar moments in TV shows and movies. And the ray of hope that immediately follows and closes the play, set some months down the line, reveals that what we've been watching is a polemic on behalf of convincing alchohol and drug abusers to seek help. It's a good message but its expression is kind of kitschy.

The episodic plot is aided by Derek McLane’s unit set of walls made of translucent glass blocks set on a turntable; most of the scenes shift before our eyes from one essentially similar bedroom to the other, with additional scenes in a bar, a softball field, and a hospital. Ben Stanton’s lighting makes the walls glow prettily.
Matthew Perry, Quincy Dunn-Baker. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Sarah Laux’s costumes generally look right but one might quibble with Jeffrey’s well-tailored jeans and t-shirts, which makes this guy look too hip. He is, after all, a lug who not only doesn’t know what kismet is but thinks Stevie’s suggestion that he needs to more culture is a reference to yogurt.

I wonder, by the way, how commonly LA hospitals. as here, allow a newborn to be freely passed around in the mother’s room not only between the mother and father but visiting friends, none of them sterilized or wearing a mask.

Perry is a believable drunk but his character is too unappetizing to make his romance with Morrison’s Stephanie plausible, Morrison lacks the edge one might see on a woman who’s been doing what Stephanie does for ten years, Kim is over the top, and Dunn-Baker never convinces that he’s anything but a smart actor playing dumb, unlike Matt LeBlanc, who made a similar character, Joey, on Friends so endearing. In fact, Jeffrey was called Joseph in the London production. Make of that what you will.


Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher St., NYC
Through July 1