Sessions with a shrink and meetings at Alcoholics Anonymous may be helpful to the individuals involved, but rarely do they make for compelling theater. Put on stage, these scenes often emerge as easy shortcuts to exposing a character’s mental state. Matthew Perry features an AA moment in his new play, “The End of Longing,” which opened Monday under the auspices of MCC at Off Broadway’s Lucille Lortel Theatre.
Coming at the end of this 100-minute play, the scene where his character, Jack, tells fellow alcoholics about the extreme trauma of being sober for a few days is a relief. Not because it’s well performed or written by Perry; rather, it signals the end of “Longing,” a play that begins as a sexy, trite sitcom but halfway through turns into the kind of treacly TV drama that populated the major networks before cable came to the rescue.
Perry has definitely studied the “Under the Yum Yum Tree” school of playwriting, at least in the opening scenes of “The End of Longing.” Jack, obviously drunk, attempts to pick up two women in a bar. His approach is amazingly brash and, against all odds, very successful.
In scene two, Stephanie (“Once Upon a Time” alum Jennifer Morrison) finds finds herself in bed with Jack. His drunkenness is funny, providing the only one-liners worth hearing. One of the ways we learn to dislike Jack’s drinking, however, is that he calls Stephanie a “whore.” She calls herself an “escort,” when in fact Jack is right. Why is she a whore? Because her father beat her once when she was a young girl. It’s here that Perry switches abruptly to the “All My Children” school of playwriting.
Stephanie proves to be much more likable than her good friend Stevie (Sue Jean Kim), whose budding affair with Jack’s good friend Jeffrey (Quincy Dunn-Baker) is the other and only slightly better half of “The End of Longing.”
If one had to choose between Jack’s chronic alcoholism and Stevie’s chronic narcissism, believe me, you’d take the drunk any day. Abrasion does not begin to describe the Stevie character or Kim’s performance.
Her total self-absorption does provide one good scene. It happens when Stevie tells Jeffrey she’s pregnant and repeatedly challenges him to dump her; instead, he tells her everything a single mother-to-be would want to hear.
Dunn-Baker, sporting one of those comfy lumberjack beards, gives a relatively quiet, unforced performance. He’s a welcome respite in this play, frenetically directed by Lindsay Posner.