By Gretchen Van Benthuysen |
Today’s BFF’s aside, having a best friend forever is a rare thing. These women read each other’s minds, finish each other’s sentences, talk every single day, love doing the same things and are always there for each other – until they’re not.
The “breakup” may be precipitated by a marriage or money or change in location. Whatever. Can the relationship be repaired? Should it?
In the world premiere of “F Theory,” currently on stage at the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch through Sept. 24, such a relationship is deeply explored in this frequently funny and sensitive work that runs just under two hours without intermission.
Playwrights Megan Loughran and Alex Trow also do an excellent job portraying their two main characters – best friends Ellie and Marianne, respectively – as well as an assortment of minor characters.
Ellie and Marianne meet in college as random roommates. We meet them as Ellie struggles to understand the abstract concept of the F theory in a class they both are taking. Maybe it’s about family, Ellie ponders. Or friends. Maybe she should just drop the class.
They are young, unconcerned about acting silly, have developed a rapport that includes clapping their hands twice – in unison – when what they say or do really hits the mark. They also tap dance and sing during study breaks. (Note: Loughran and Trow both are Yale University grads. Just saying.)
Marianne is the more serious of the two while Ellie is somewhat laid-back. A former child star on the TV sitcom “Crazy Kids Club,” she was raised by her widowed father who travels the world with a female companion on the money she made, which doesn’t seem to bother her as much as it should.
When her laptop, named Stella, crashes, she bellows out – well, you know. Marianne immediately orders another laptop online for her roomie. Her family is rich. One of the school’s buildings is named after Marianne’s mother’s family. They own lots of shopping malls. (Given today’s severe financial downturn of brick-and-mortar retail stores, the playwrights might want to rethink that.)
What’s the use of having money if you can’t spend it on your friends, Marianne explains. It happens again post-university. After being roommates for three years in a condo Marianne’s family owns, she is leaving to marry her college boyfriend. But Ellie won’t have to find a roommate to help with the rent. The family is happy someone they know is looking after it for them.
But we know, one day, it will be a problem.
Life goes on. At least it does for Marianne. After marriage, there is a child. Then time in China studying interactions between primates for her doctorate degree. Then a theory about humans and their interactions in what becomes a New York Times best-selling book.
Ellie, meanwhile, flounders a bit. Doesn’t marry. Doesn’t have a kid. Takes up the ukulele and songwriting. They Skype to keep in touch and make a pact to tell each other three mundane things they did each time they talk.
When Marianne returns from China with a theory about dependency on friends becoming self-fulfilling and harmful, Ellie meets her at the airport. The more Marianne explains her theory and applies it to Ellie, the cracks in the friendship appear and soon turn into a crevasse when money is mentioned.
Loughran and Trow have written a play about how hard it can be for a constantly changing contemporary friendship between two mature women to thrive and survive. Then they give nuanced performances that make it even better.
Plays by and about women have come under scrutiny lately. Pulitzer Prize winners Lynn Nottage and Paula Vogel, for instance, didn’t get their work on Broadway until this past season with “Sweat” and “Indecent,” respectively.
Behind-the-scene jobs for woman also are scarce in commercial theaters where money and reputations are to be made.
The New Jersey Repertory Company, a not- for-profit theater, bucks that trend. The next main stage play is Karen Rizzo’s new “Mutual Philanthropy” in October. Of the six plays scheduled so far in 2018, three are by women. Meanwhile, the All About Eve: Festival of the Arts planned for Oct. 1- 8 at NJ Rep’s new West End Arts Center in Long Branch features 28 short plays, 12 of them by women.
The backstage crew for “F Theory” includes Jessica Parks, scene designer; Jill Nagle, lighting designer; Patricia E. Doherty, costume designer and Marisa Porcopio, properties design. All their efforts enhanced the show greatly. Kristin Pfeifer is the stage manager for this production.
Director Ethan Heard’s deft touch pulled it all together nicely.
“F Theory” is performed Thursdays through Sundays through Sept. 24 at the New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch. Tickets are $46 and available by calling 732-229-3166 or online at www.njrep.org.
Journalist Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen’s theater news and reviews can be found on theatercues.com.
This article was first published in the Aug. 24-31, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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