Theater review by Adam Feldman
Here is what happens at the start of Matthew Perry’s horrid The End of Longing. A middle-aged drunk, Jack (Perry), approaches a beautiful and rich younger woman, Stephanie (House’s Jennifer Morrison), at a bar. He proposes a three-way with her tense best friend, Stevie (Sue Jean Kim), then tells her that her eyes are pretty and that she should smile more, after which he high-fives his buddy Jeffrey (Quincy Dunn-Baker). Captivated by his wit and charm, Stephanie takes him home, and when she wakes up she is mad they did not have sex. That is quickly rectified, however, because she is the kind of woman who has flawless blond hair and sportily calls guys “bucko” and wears gartered lingerie under an oversize man’s shirt, and also she is a $2,500-an-hour escort who sleeps with Jack for free because she is flattered that he likes to stare at her when she’s asleep. (You know, that kind of woman!)
From this creepy fantasy of a meet-cute, The End of Longing—Perry’s debut as a playwright—actually goes downhill. Concerned in the main with Jack’s struggle with alcoholism, the play spends 100 minutes feeding at rock bottom, alternating between coarse quasi-humor, strained melodrama and maudlin romance. Many of the lines seem to think they are jokes, but forget to include the joke part. (Jack at a maternity ward: “If I don’t get a drink soon, I’m going to go into labor myself!”) Other lines are mired in earnest cliché. (Jack: “I’m not scared. I’m not scared of anything.” Stephanie: “You’re too afraid to let yourself feel.”) Still others just make you wonder what the writer was thinking. (“Are you trying to turn me into a Buddhist? I’m going to be chanting and wearing stupid yellow fucked-up robes.”) All are flattened out in Perry’s monotonous performance, in which he seems—you should forgive the expression—afraid to let himself feel. Writing this play may have been a therapeutic exercise for Perry, who has battled alcohol and drug addiction; you can sense him sweating out the toxins. That’s commendable but personal. The public result is a sweaty, toxic play that only makes you long for an ending.
Lucille Lortel Theatre (Off Broadway). By Matthew Perry. Directed by Lindsay Posner. With Perry, Jennifer Morrison. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission. Through July 1.
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