“People can change,” says actor Matthew Perry, now playwright and star of MCC Theater’s The End of Longing (beginning performances May 18), but most widely known as Chandler from TV’s Friends. His plays tells the story of four broken people who find themselves together in a Los Angeles bar. Perry is referring to the four characters his show is centered around, but this statement also applies to him as he begins his career as a playwright.
Perry steps away from his comedy roots to play Jack, an alcoholic searching for the meaning of life. “I usually play the comic relief and in [The End of Longing] I [take] the darker road,” explains Perry. “He’s a dark fellow. The whole premise of the play is predicated on the fact that people are broken and that people can change. I always tend to write people like that.”
The show, which premiered in London’s West End in 2016, has been through some changes itself. “[MCC has] given me many notes,” explains Perry. “[It’s] a very different version of the play, but very smart. The director is the same and I’m the same, but the cast is totally different and it’s exciting.”
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“We’ve had the privileged position of having a run in London and then having had time to tinker with the piece through workshops that MCC has supported,” says director Lindsay Posner, who first met Perry while directing him in a production of David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago in the West End in 2003. Posner explains that Perry started the project with little playwriting experience. However, throughout the London run and New York workshops, he has gained understanding of how plays work, both structurally and dramatically. “It’s amazing how Matthew is now thinking like a playwright after a year-and-a-half,” Posner says.
Sue Jean Kim, who plays Stevie, a neurotic pharmaceutical rep who helps herself to her own sample supply, worked on two workshops of the show and says that performing with an actor who is also the playwright has been a new and exciting experience. “It’s unusually collaborative,” she explains. “It’s been so great to be in the room with a playwright who’s also acting. He understands where an actor comes from so he knows how to address any concerns you might have.”
The New York cast of The End of Longing also includes Jennifer Morrison (Once Upon a Time, House) and Quincy Dunn-Baker (Chicago Med, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt).
Morrison expresses that she, like Perry, is excited to take on a darker role. In her case, that means playing Stephanie, a high-end escort in a relationship with Perry’s character. “[It’s] very different than anything I’ve ever done before, which is great,” she says, eager to take part in Perry’s first playwriting venture. “It’s really exciting to celebrate new works. I think it’s usually the genesis of longer careers and the beginning of what someone has to say as an artist,” she says.
Dunn-Baker, who calls Perry his “childhood comedy hero,” explains that, as dark as The End of Longing may get at times, it does include many light, comedic moments. Unlike the other characters in The End of Longing, Dunn-Baker’s “simpleton” Jeffrey does not allow himself to be bogged down by self-loathing. “He’s a good person. He’s a calm person. He doesn’t freak out, so he’s different,” he says. “He lacks the cynicism and darkness that I feel is in a lot of new plays so that’s a fun and challenging thing to explore. Those people are really special and [although they] can come across as dim or stupid, they’re not.”
While each character feels damaged, the cast urges they want people to leave the theatre knowing they can improve their lives. “You watch [these characters] start off in a dark and dense place and then you watch them become more full people that end the play with a great sense of hope,” says Perry. “Broken people don’t need to stay broken.”