LONDON — Could Chandler Bing be any ruder?
Matthew Perry certainly seems to think so. More than 20 years after six Friends gathered in Central Perk, Perry has created a kind of drug-taking, foul-mouthed, sex-obsessed, X-rated version of one of the most popular sitcoms in TV history.
His playwriting debut The End of Longing opened in London’s West End on Thursday. There is no official link to the NBC show that made him a millionaire but this looks an awful lot like Friends Gone Wild.
“I wrote a very adult play and it seems to be appealing to British audiences,” he told the London Evening Standard during previews. “There’s a lot of swearing in it and British audiences tend to enjoy that.”
But does he know these British audiences have seen Friends? Because he hasn’t done much to disguise the similarities.
The show is about a group of friends, unlucky in love and career, trying to get on in New York City. One of the characters wishes she was an executive at a big fashion house (Calvin Klein—not Ralph Lauren) but had to settle for part-time menial work (prostitute—not waitress). The best friend of Perry’s sardonic lead is a thinly drawn character whose principle trait is being dumb. Even his name is familiar.
“My name is Joseph and I am stupid,” is his opening line.
It’s as if the old Friends, who are now in their 40s, have been turned up to 11—so the Monica-themed character is constantly talking about therapy and her hunger for prescription medication. This is not to say the characters are exact replicas of the Friends stars—and Ross and Phoebe didn’t make the cut—but there’s an unmistakable air of reminiscence pervading the evening.
Perry’s own character has a touch of Chandler’s self-deprecating humor, but he also seems to have borrowed heavily from the actor’s troubled life off-screen.
“I drank my bodyweight in alcohol and she still made me cum,” he tells Joseph approvingly in Act 1. In between beers drained in twos and endless vodka tonics, he explains to the audience: “Sometimes I drink to forget how much I’m drinking [but] ‘alcoholic’ is such an ugly word.”
Of course, Perry has admitted that he is a recovering alcoholic and prescription drug addict. “He’s drunk and I used to drink a lot so I recognize that, but it’s not autobiographical,” he said in the Standard interview.
He certainly seems to know what he’s doing, guzzling his drinks on stage with abandon and explaining his need for the booze through a series of speeches that are sometimes poignant and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny.
If you like the sound of Chandler clutching a drink and roaring through some pretty bawdy jokes about jerking off, sex and post-coital tristesse, then this is the show for you. If not—well, there’s not much more to it.
The feeling of being back with an old friend isn’t limited to the characters—the play is like a mid-’90s network sitcom pilot stretched out to fill two hours. The scenes are mostly short, ending with a laugh-line and even a musical keyboard sting while the actors race into position for the next set of straight-forward one-liners.
Beyond Perry’s character, Jack, there’s little real development or understanding of these four people. Perhaps that would be fleshed out if someone picked up the “pilot,” but that seems a long shot.
Perry is certainly convincing as a slurring, disheveled middle-aged man, although it’s unclear how much of an act he is putting on. His clothes don’t really fit but it’s hard to tell whether that is a deliberate attempt to make him look washed up or if Perry’s latest weight yo-yo-ing caught the costume department on the hop.
On the very same stage where London laughed at Lindsay Lohan’s West End debut two years ago, Perry has not disgraced himself. The End of Longing is definitely not a great play, but it is genuinely funny and, let’s face it, that’s more than you can say for Friends.