By Daniel Ford
Matthew Perry has had an intriguing, if uneven, career following his portrayal of Chandler Bing in "Friends." He had a short, but memorably dramatic arc on "The West Wing," co-starred in Aaron Sorkin's tragically flawed "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," and headlined “Mr. Sunshine” and “Go On,” two vastly underrated series.
Perry’s sarcastic wit, pitch perfect comedic timing, and ability to bite into edgier roles have made him into one of the more likeable actors of this generation. He’s been typecasted in some respects because of his work on “Friends,” which provides some explanation for why he’s been unable to land the right role for his particular talents. However, the parts he has chosen reflect somewhat on his personal life, which has been marred by alcohol and drug abuse. His roles in “Mr. Sunshine,” “Go On,” and “Studio 60” all featured a character dealing with addiction, loss, or some other variation on suffering.
“The End of Longing,” a play written and starring Perry that debuted in London on Feb. 11, not only showcases the actor’s strengths, but also his ability to craft a darkly comedic story. Perry plays Jack, an unrepentant alcoholic who falls in love with a self-proclaimed whore (played with sass and verve by Jennifer Mudge). The two are joined on stage by Christina Cole as Stevie and Lloyd Owen as Joseph (who aren’t given much to do in the first half, but almost outshine the show’s headliner in the second). One can’t help but think that these four characters reflect different aspects of Perry’s own persona, and each is given plenty of witty and quippy material.
One of the major reservations Stephanie Schaefer and I heard from the crowd during intermission was that the action was more sitcom-y than people expected. While I absolutely concurred during the first half of the show, I found the second half to be much darker and more dramatic (I also appreciated the vast amounts of profanity littered throughout the script!). There were moments that were so tense and deep that you could hear a pin drop in the theater.
By far, the best part of “The End of Longing” is Perry’s final monologue, which is given to an empty stage during an AA meeting. It’s one of those moments when you can feel the writer’s life seeping through the dialogue (much like Matthew Weiner’s “refrigerator light” monologue in the “Mad Men” finale). It’s a moving, tortured speech that is made all the more relevant and touching given Perry’s personal history.
“The End of Longing” isn’t perfect by any means, and I think that the sum of the parts doesn’t exactly equal a quality whole. However, there were flashes of really great writing and inspired acting that make me think Perry is just getting warmed up. If he keeps honing his screenwriting skills and surrounds himself with quality, engaged casts, then he could be even more watchable in the future.