Let’s not fanny around here. You wouldn’t expect David Hare to do a very good job playing Chandler Bing from ‘Friends’ and it’s almost insanely optimistic to think Matthew Perry would turn out to be one of the greatest playwrights of the modern era.
‘The End of Longing’, written by and starring Perry, is not a good play. It is an extremely literal work that feels like a sitcom script on a stage, not a theatrical piece of writing. It concerns four friends, one of whom, Jack (Perry) is an alcoholic, who falls for Jennifer Mudge’s Stephanie, a prostitute. Though Mudge certainly gives the best performance of the night, Perry-the-playwright’s depiction of a sex worker is at best glib, at worst misogynist. The other two friends are borderline ‘Friends’: the neurotic woman (Christina Cole’s Stevie) and the dopey-but-kindly man (Lloyd Owen’s Joseph) are so thinly sketched that it’s hard not to think of them as roughly equivalent to Monica and Joey. The icing on the cake is Perry’s peculiar performance, which involves him barking every line in a gruff monotone that weirdly reminded me of bureau chief Gordon Cole in ‘Twin Peaks’.
Nevertheless ‘The End of Longing’ has something. Perry’s real-life battles with alcohol have been well documented, and it’s clear that Jack’s experiences are heavily based upon the author’s own. His demons are the motor of Lindsay Posner’s crisp production: despite his distracting delivery, Perry’s performance is surprisingly moving, if only because it feels mercilessly honest. Jack cuts a pitiful figure, but there’s not much wallowing: the play is often amusing, rarely preachy and always aware of the Kerouacian romance of the sauce.
It’s still not a good play, though, and it’s hard to imagine any producer in their right mind staging it without the author as star. But the fact is, if you’re a fan of Matthew Perry, seeing him flagellate himself in a reasonably amusing fashion for your entertainment is probably not a terrible use of your money. This probably all sounds like damning with faint praise, but there is a genuine bravery to ‘The End of Longing’ that just lifts it above simple vanity project.