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A CurtainUp Review
End of Longing

At least, I have the common decency to turn to drugs and alcohol. — Jack
matthew perry
Jennifer Morrison and Matthew Perry (photo by Joan Marcus)
Unless the play is going to be good, a title like The End of Longing is likely to invite comments about the play coming none too soon to a merciful end.

The one hundred or so minutes spent in the company of a middle-aged predatory alcoholic photographer, his younger if dim-witted best friend, a high-end call girl, and a highly neurotic pharmaceutical saleswoman do exhibit author Matthew Perry's flair for writing bits of barbed and brittle repartee. What passes for a plot in which four egregiously underdeveloped characters are put in a progression of queasily predictable situations is otherwise lamentable.

Perry, a fine actor from what little I have seen of his work, is also appearing as the star of this vehicle which is having its first New York production following its world premiere in London's West End last season. ( review by Curtainup's London critic ). He can feel confident that his fan base, mainly recruited from his years in successful TV series as Friends, The Good Wife, and The West Wing will make a beeline to applaud him at the MCC Theatre production at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. Other members of the audience may be less enthusiastic given the perfunctory direction by Lindsay Posner, (who also directed its UK premiere), the play's superficial characters and the general lack of suspense or elements of surprise.

Here's the set-up: Jack (Matthew Perry) is a compulsive, self-loathing alcoholic who is already half-looped by the time he brashly tries to put the make on good-looking shapely blonde Stephanie (Jennifer Morrison) in a Los Angeles hotel's wine bar. He is awaiting the arrival of his best friend Jeffrey (Quincy Dunn-Baker), presumably for an anticipated evening of drinking and carousing. Things get thorny with the arrival of Stephanie's seriously bi-polar best friend Stevie (Sue Jean Kim) who is furious and in full meltdown because the guy she had sex with just four hours ago hasn't texted her.

We're hardly surprised that that guy is Jeffrey, who cannot understand Stevie's irrational behavior, but is nevertheless unconditionally smitten with her? Nor are we surprised when Jack wakes up in Stephanie's bed unable to remember the night before, but startled to discover that Stephanie's time and services are worth $2,500 an hour. Jeffrey's bed date with Stevie is also no bargain. Over the course of his next couple of months with her he's never sure if she going to say "I love you" or "I hate you."

Are the longings of these four lost souls destined to be thwarted or rewarded? Will it take the predictable denouement at a hospital's maternity ward to put their disarrayed lives on track? More importantly, Perry, for all his earnestness in the script or in his performance, doesn't give us any clues as to what his four characters see in each other — either romantically or as conduits to a better life.

Set designer Derek McLane has created a large opaque notably symbolic wall that turns with ease to reveal various locations. The quality of the acting is distinctively strained as Perry's half-comedic, half bromidic route to romance lands him providentially at an AA meeting. Stephanie reveals her lost childhood with an abusive father with a disengaged stridency. Kim defines the manic, drug-dependent Stevie as an inveterate nutcase. That leaves Baker to give the likeable if vacuous Jeffrey an emotional stability within a play that simply defies plausibility.

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Written by and starring Matthew Perry
Directed by Lindsay Posner
Cast besides Perry: Quincy Dunn-Baker (Jeffrey), Sue Jean Kim (Stevie), Jennifer Morrison (Stephanie).
Sets: Derek McLane
Costumes: Sarah Laux
Lighting: Ben Stanton
Ssound: Ryan Rumery
Stage Manager: Katherine Wallace
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes no intermission
MCC Lortel Theatre 121 Christopher Street
From 5/18/17; opening 6/05/17; closing 7/01/17.
Reviewed by Simon Saltzman at 6/02 press preview

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