At the end of the press night performance of The End of Longing, a large part of the audience gave the four actors a standing ovation. You could attribute the response to the presence on stage of Matthew Perry, the actor known to many as Chandler Bing in the American television sitcom Friends, or to a genuine expression of approval of the play and the production. Throughout the performance the audience roared with laughter–maybe not all, but a sufficient number to indicate that those who paid for their tickets were genuinely having a good time.
The play, also written by Matthew Perry, is indeed funny in some parts, and serious in a few. Loaded with clichés, its occasional twist of knowing wit is not lost on the audience. It is for the most part a big slice of light entertainment with a side of social issues.
There are four characters, each lost on his or her way and each of whom eventually finds what he or she is longing for, namely love and affection.
There’s Jack (Matthew Perry), an alcoholic who loves his drink more than anything else in life. There’s Stephanie (Jennifer Mudge), a hooker who can cream $2,500 per hour, and Stevie (Christina Cole) who works in a Drug Store, a neurotic 37-year-old female desperate to have a child before she ‘misses the train’. And then there’s Joseph (Jonny McPherson), a happy simpleton and probably the wisest of the four in that he knows what he wants out of life.
Jack is intrigued by Stephanie’s unapologetic and ‘arousing’ bold admission of her profession. Stephanie finds Jack different from the men she encounters in her business. Stevie is condescending toward Joseph, and he, oblivious, simply adores her.
The performances of all four are spot on. The characters, though skin-deep, are convincing. Matthew Perry plays the alcoholic Jack so well that the lady sitting next to me was certain he had had a few drinks before stepping on stage.
Anna Fleischle’s set design, using fast changing projected scenes of a metropolis with skyscrapers and crowded streets, punctuates the sense of inner confusion some of the characters seem to be in. The backroom in the bar, despite the bright red, high back seat, adds to the impersonal reality in which these characters live. That is, until things change.
The dialogues and monologues fill some of the space between the friends, yet the quick changing scenes create a void that distances the characters from the audience. Lindsay Posner’s direction, in transferring the words from the page onto the stage, is competent. The play itself feels not fully baked and too affected by the sitcom Friends.
Matthew Perry, playwright, performer, and major draw, has yet to free himself of a decade doing sitcom. But it was a very, very popular sitcom. And for those who crave more of that, this play is indeed an end of longing.