By Tulis McCall

Jennifer Morrison and Matthew Perry; Photo by Joan Marcus

The End Of Longing is a well-intentioned homage to hope.  When everything is against you, the person in your crosshairs just might be the best t hing that ever happened.  If you pull your head out of your butt and pay attention.

Jack (Matthew Perry) is a drunk who passes for normal.  He can socialize and sleep around with the best of them.  Until he crosses paths with Stephanie (Jennifer Morrison).  Then he wants more.  He wants to be in love without lowering any barriers.  Ditto for her.  Add two more lonesome people to this combo, Stevie (Sue Jean Kim) and Jeffrey (Quincy Dunn-Baker) and you have a bridge game where the cards are marked.

The play, not surprisingly, has a sitcom flavor to it.  The scenes are short and melodramatic.  There is trouble on every page, and those of you with ADD will be pleased at the pacing.  As the play progresses the characters begin to veer in and out of each other’s lanes on the Autobahn of Romance.  There are fireworks of some magnitude.  Intimacy raises its cupie-doll head and everyone, except for Jeffrey, heads for the hills, all the while yelling over their shoulder that it is the OTHER person’s fault that things are not working.  Jack will not give up liquor, Stephanie will not quit her escort service work, and Stevie and Jeffrey lock horns, she telling him to leave and he refusing to.

As I said, the pacing is sitcom, and the first scene appears to have completely gotten away from the director Lindsay Posner.  Each of the actors begins on such a high note that it takes the audience way too long go catch up.  In real life, by the time Jack attempts to reveal that he is a charming person underneath all the BS, the two ladies would have been long gone.  Kim is seems to be announcing her neurosis with a bull horn and as a result the only believable companion for her would be a very calm dog.  Jeffrey is several sandwiches short of a picnic basket.  Stephanie is ice.  Ergo, the play begins with a premise that we do not believe.

The story plugs along, however, much like Jack himself.  Like one of those “I think I can” trains that refuses to give up.  For the most part we are not bored.  We are, however, frustrated by the actors’ pacing.  Right now they are stepping on their lines – and Perry writes some very funny lines –  as well as catapulting from one emotion to the other like pinballs.  This adds to the jumbled quality of the evening.

The good news is that Perry has created characters that are not the cookie cutter variety.  These are people who are not afraid to butt heads when their flavor of unconventional is frowned upon.  The arguments are believable and pull you into the crazy places that people on the defense seek out. There are switchbacks and detours.  Only in the final scenes does his writing border on sophomoric.  Jack’s speech as a newly sober person at an AA meeting sounds like it comes from a character who has some seasoning under his belt.  Who has traveled some distance to reach the Shake Shack of sobriety.  In a previous scene – a few days ago – we saw Jack trembling because of no liquor for a few hours.  In this scene, he is cool and possessed after 4 days of abstinence.  I don’t think so.

In addition, there are other factual gaffs in the script: Pregnancy kits are over the counter these days and do not require a prescription, hence Jack’s overheard plea at the pharmacy is unbelievable on more than one level.  And what is it with smoking?  Nobody gets it right anymore because no one smokes.  Jack is supposed to be a chain smother but handles the cigarettes as if they are radioactive.  Why was Stephanie wearing Jack’s shirt to sleep in when they were not actual an item?  And why didn’t he mention that when he turned up on her doorstep without notice?  And then of course there is the age difference between the romantic leads.  Perry is 47 and Morrison is 37.  I mused to a friend, “Why couldn’t she be his age?” and my friend said, “Who would believe a high-class escort at that age?”

Ahhhhh.  Life’s magic pageantry.

Whether or not a play is based on facts is none of anyone’s business.  As a matter of fact, it is often the last nail in the coffin, because “it happened like this” usually triumphs over plot and story lines.  In this case we did not fare too badly.  It is not great theatre, but it does stick with you.  Many of the audience are going to see Matthew Perry because he is a TV star.  The theatre has even opened up the balcony for this production.  The good news is that some of these folks will walk away with more than, “I saw Matthew Perry,” if they choose to pay attention.

The End Of Longing – Written by Matthew Perry; Directed by Lindsay Posner

Cast Quincy Dunn-Baker, Sue Jean Kim, Jennifer Morrison and Matthew Perry

Scenic Design Derek NcLane, Costume Design Sarah Laux, Lighting Design Ben Stanton

Presented by MCC Theater – Robert Lupone, Bernard Kelsey and William Cantler Artistic Directors through July 1.  TICKETS