Matthew Perry is ready for new challenges—starting with his playwriting debut. The premise of his play, The End of Longing, sounds a little like the beginning of a good joke: “An alcoholic, an escort, a self-diagnosed neurotic, and a well-intentioned dimwit walk into a bar.” But Perry’s bittersweet comedy knows how to throw a punch—for his playwriting debut, the former sitcom star is willing to go to some dark places.
The End of Longing received its world premiere in the West End last year—where it broke box office records at the Playhouse Theatre—and arrives Off-Broadway this spring in a revamped production from MCC Theater. It’s the story of four deeply flawed strangers whose lives become irreversibly intertwined. At the center of the play is Jack, an alcoholic. Perry, who himself is an outspoken addiction recovery advocate, starred as Jack in the London production, and returns to play the role in New York.
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Perry says that he was inspired to write The End of Longing by the idea that “people can change”—specifically, that “broken people can turn into better people.” “I’ve experienced a lot of changes in my life and I see people change every day,” he says. “There’s a common notion that people can’t change. I disagree with that.”
Perry, who had previously written for television, says that he didn’t necessarily set out to write a play; it just happened organically. “I sat at my computer and started writing. I didn’t know what [was going to come out],” he says. “I realized I was writing a play, and didn’t stop until I was finished.”
Writing The End of Longing was a therapeutic process. Like most playwrights, Perry poured a lot of himself into the story. “All of the characters are a little bit of me, or an exaggerated version of me,” he admits. Does that make him feel exposed?
“I feel more vulnerable as a playwright,” says Perry, who has swapped the “actor dream”—in which you find yourself naked onstage—for the “playwright’s nightmare,” in which the actors mess up all of his lines. “My words are out there, and they’re so close to my heart.”
But it’s a welcome challenge for Perry, who says you’re not likely to see him popping up again in any sitcoms any time soon.
“I was solely an actor for the first half of my life. Now writing is something that really interests me,” he says. “It’s about challenging yourself and doing things that are foreign. Work that makes me use my brain.”
It’s about people changing.