Reviewed by Michael T. Mooney on August 19, 2017 at 8pm for www.njfootlights.net
a world premiere by Megan Loughran and Alex Trow
First and foremost, get your minds out of the gutter. The 'F' in the title of the world premiere now at NJ Rep stands for Friendship. Female Friendship, to be specific. The 95-minute two-hander is performed and written by two college friends from Yale, Megan Loughran and Alex Trow. It is directed by another Eli, Ethan Heard. The serio-comic play tracks the relationship of two women from being college roommates to ... beyond (as the program says). Whether that means 'the great beyond' is left tantalizingly ambiguous.
Trow plays Marianne, an ambitious writer whose family comes from money—shopping mall money. At first she innocently tries to buy friendship from the bubbly Ellie (Loughran) figuring that funds (or lack of) shouldn't stand in the way of friendship. As the pair merrily roll along from year to year, their friendship is fractured when Marianne decides to change the name of her future book to “The Friendship Hoax” and uses Ellie as her case study.
The tone of the play totters between light comedy and drama; sometimes easily, sometimes perilously. Although the authors/castmates may be too young to remember it, Jack Heifner's VANITIES also traced female friendship from college to 'beyond.' F THEORY is also vaguely in the mode of Mo Gaffney and Kathy Najimy's PARALLEL LIVES, a play that also celebrated feminine kinship and was also performed by the authors. Director Ethan Heard is from the musical theatre/opera world, and the play's most successful scene seems borrowed directly from Stephen Sondheim's MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, depicting a life-long friendship dissolving live on a TV talk show. Not surprisingly, MERRILY is listed as one of Heard's Yale credits.
Finally, there an unlikely nod to GREATER TUNA (and its sequels) by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard, three friends who wrote, performed, and directed quick-change satires of small town life, winning a Tony Award in the process. In F THEORY, background characters briefly pop in and out, also played by the Loughlan and Trow. Although it might seem a clever way to flesh out their world, there are not nearly enough of them to make the running gag run and they end up adding very little to the narrative. The stage time would be better spent developing Marianne and Ellie's unique dynamic.
There is one F theory that is introduced late in the play that proves fascinating. That F stands for Franklin—as in Benjamin. Apparently, the Founding Father theorized that friendships were a way of self-validation; they had little to do with the friended but everything to do with the friender. This revelatory scene would benefit from being up front, even at the risk of making the play into a non-linear narrative. Like MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, which unfolded in reverse chronology, the real story here isn't the friends, but their friendship. Not the how, but the why.
As usual, NJ Rep has lavished F THEORY with a grade F (for Fabulous) production. The set by Jessica Parks is a sort of abstract friendship museum. The rehearsal blocks of a college black box theatre are here translated into cleverly workable furniture that might make Ikea sit up and take notice. The use of projections is particularly helpful in sorting out the where and the when of the story. Usual NJ Rep designers Jill Nagle (lights) and Patricia E. Doherty (costumes) are also at their creative finest. If I have one reservation it is the scene change music – whose playlist dutifully (and sometimes laboriously) trots out nearly every song with the words 'friend' or 'friendship' in it whether it fits the mood or not. The gimmick wears out its welcome in the first half hour.
This is the Trow and Loughran's freshman outing in the world of playwriting, and fair to say, they show promise in their first foray. Hearkening back to their Yale days, F THEORY in no way merits an F – more a C+.
F THEORY is onstage now through September 24 at the New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, New Jersey. For tickets and further information visit www.njrep.org or call 732-229-3166. From September 15 to 17 Pheonix Vaughn will play the role of Marianne.