One of the things that frustrates me the most about any interview with Matthew Perry is that people won’t stop asking him about Friends. I mean, I was obsessed too! I’ve been shamelessly/shamefully in love with Matthew Perry for 20 years and everyone knows it. But by only ever asking him about his role in Friends, the public don’t get to hear about the other projects he’s been involved in. And since that show wrapped up over ten years ago, Perry has been uber busy, including showcasing his penchant for dramedy with roles on The Good Wife and The West Wing. I legit think Perry’s missing a trick by not commanding his own drama series right now. But hey, Matthew Perry wrote a play and it’s on in London’s West End right now, and I couldn’t be happier that he’s had the chance to do that.
Am I a biased reviewer? Totally. I’ve seen everything Matthew Perry’s ever been in, even this completely random movie called Birds Of America in which he took a shit on someone’s front lawn (spoiler alert, I kid you not). And as family members will attest, it was an absolute nightmare taking me to his play (I nearly injured my brother’s girlfriend by gripping her wrist too tight when the play started). We had front row seats because we’re cool/losers/delete as appropriate, and we were closer to Perry then we ever thought we’d be in our entire lives. It’s probably frustrating for Matt that so many of the punters buying tickets to his play are Chandler Bing fans, though I’m sure he’s banking on that too. I got a ticket because I think he’s one of the unsung greats, an incredibly fine actor with an ability for both comedy and drama, who could carry his own drama series in a heartbeat.
Matthew Perry’s first play, The End Of Longing, is about a group of friends in their 30s and 40s, navigating tricky relationships, and important life junctures, trying to figure out how to grow up. Perry fans won’t be disappointed. Not only is his script filled with awesome one liners (I paraphrase: “You have some drinks, you sing on a table, you fall on your face – that’s just life!”), the connections the characters forge with each other are very real. While the characters may be based in cliche (there’s a whore, an alcoholic, a dumb guy, and Monica Geller), there’s chemistry between the cast, so much so that, at times, the script is unpredictable. Kudos to the actors because there are a lot of laughs throughout, and that’s totally down to Perry’s experience in television writers’ rooms, and talent for improvisation.
The play’s not perfect. While the short scenes work, dropping us into crucial conversations and important moments in the lives of the characters (mainly to deliver killer one-liners), the complicated set seemed to be change too frequently, making me long for a static set. The jokes about prostitution started to wear a little thin by the end, though in Perry’s defence, as his cast comprised of two men and two women, he didn’t shy away from writing strong female characters, and examining the complicated ways in which men and women interact. But the biggest problem that The End Of Longing has is with its plot.
There’s absolutely no doubt that Matthew Perry is hilarious, and his writing is too. But where the play starts to limp a little is when the story tries for moments of catharsis. When it comes to four people chatting shit, and making the audience laugh unconditionally, Perry excels. But when he’s trying to convince us that these character arcs are realistic and that we should properly care about what happens to these people, it’s way more difficult to connect. I cared more about each of the characters, for instance, when they were fucking-up royally in Act 1: there was honesty there. But Act 2 was intent on change, and convincing the audience that people can evolve. While I have no problem believing that this, in theory, is true, the changes that took place were wholly unbelievable. And before you start yelling, “It’s a play, you stupid bitch!” I am well aware of that fact. I’m also pretty gutted it wasn’t better.
My opinion counts for little and, in the grand scheme of things, The End Of Longing is likely going to be a success. But by deferring to saccharin moments (there’s a truly dreadful set piece when one of the characters is seriously ill, and the overture and glowing lights suggest celestial ambitions), the play becomes more TV movie than classic. I’m all for a romantic comedy (even a creepy one), but any initial cool the play had in its first half, got slowly replaced after the intermission, like a carrot cake just on the turn – it still looks good on the outside, but it’s a mushy mess you can’t cut into or keep.
Still, I’ll probably love Matthew Perry forevs, and I hope that he writes more plays. I just won’t wait at the Stage Door after next time, because he seems to really fucking hate that, FYI. (WHY WON’T HE LOVE ME?!?!?! OK BYE NOW.)
Amy Mackelden is an Entertainment Writer at Bustle, and has written for heat magazine, New Statesman online, Kinkly, The Independent online, xoJane and Hello Giggles. Her first book, Adele: The Other Side, a guidebook about the “Hello” singer, is out in 2016 with Squint Books/Eyewear.