The End of Longing is a dark comedy written by and starring Matthew Perry. The play is set primarily in a funky bar in LA, where two female friends (Stephanie and Stevie) and two male friends (Jack and Joseph) meet to exchange thoughts on life, with often very humorous commentaries on the singles’ lifestyles.
Jack is a seemingly-shallow man, an alcoholic, although he prefers to call it “professional drinking”, who falls for Stephanie. Stephanie is a high-class call-girl/prostitute who is making a fortune plying her trade, but, against all odds, falls in love with Jack. The two share many characteristics, both of them having a self-destructive habit that they fool themselves into thinking makes them happy, but in the end, they realise their affection for one another and try to change their ways. There are many comic moments along the way, but the underlying story is one of two pretty desperate and damaged souls who’ve lost their way in life.
Stephanie’s friend, Stevie, is a neurotic pharmaceutical worker who is desperate to have a baby and, at 37, feels her chances are running out. Joseph is Jack’s best friend, a self-proclaimed unintelligent/stupid man, but he is perhaps the most “normal” and least damaged of the four characters. Stevie and Joseph are aware of their respective friend’s reckless behaviour, but they rarely challenge them on this and have often helped them out of potentially dangerous situations. This couple are very different from one another, but Joseph’s level-headedness is a great balance to Stevie’s over-analytical nature (she cannot understand how he can possibly not have a therapist), and they happily come together and welcome a baby girl, Keaton, into the world.
Matthew Perry (Friends, Mr Sunshine, The Odd Couple) stars in his own play as Jack. The part has small snippets of the much-loved character, Chandler Bing, from the TV sitcom Friends, which is hysterical, but this is a very different character, make no mistake, a much deeper one, a desperate man with a serious internal struggle to overcome his dependency on alcohol. Perry’s final monologue when he attends AA for the first time is a breath-taking plea for help, and alongside all the comedy of this play, this is perhaps the highlight of the show.
Jennifer Mudge (The Philanthropist, Rocky, Reckless) plays Stephanie and is just amazing in the role. She plays Stephanie with bravado and confidence, but she is also a frightened little girl who is afraid (and perhaps ashamed, although she doesn’t realise or admit this) to tell her parents what she really does for a living, and who is afraid to start a new career, having fooled herself into believing her life as an escort is what she wants because she is in charge and earning lots of money.
Stevie is played by Christina Cole (The Magistrate, Romeo and Juliet, Suits (TV)). She gives an outstanding performance, delivering the dialogue quickly and sharply, as suits the neurotic character, as she analyses herself and her lover and questions everything.
Lloyd Owen (The Bodyguard, Good People, Stuff Happens) plays Joseph. He gives an excellent performance as the loyal friend and companion to Jack and then the solid-rock support to Stevie. The character is relatively trouble-free and has a simple outlook on life, and he tries to help first Stevie, and then also Jack and Stephanie, making them all realise that life doesn’t need to always be as complicated and hard as they make it.
The End of Longing is an interesting mix of comedy and darkness, making the audience both laugh and cry. The first act is carefree with many comic one-liners and hilarious scenes, but Act 2 contrastingly turns serious and even sad in places and the whole tone of the show changes very quickly. The flow of the show is not as smooth as it might be – the frequent changes of set makes it feel almost like a TV sitcom, a collection of individual sketches, but the overall feeling is that it could be set anywhere in our dysfunctional world. In conclusion, Matthew Perry has made an excellent playwrighting debut, with smart jokes, well-written dialogue, and flawed but endearing characters, who are searching for love and happiness, and the play’s overall message is that everyone can change.
The play is showing at the Playhouse Theatre until 14th May 2016.