Apparently playwright James Fritz has created a piece based on negative relationship elements of characters Ross and Rachel from the television series Friends. I write ‘apparently’ because had I not been circumstantially accompanied by a young woman deeply conversant with the show, I would now be as lost as I was during the play. Be warned. Ross and Rachel is a bit like airline food (when we used to get it) – edible, but gods know what’s on the plate.
Hardworking actress Molly Vevers, who deserves better, represents both Ross and Rachel using only occasional pronouns. Darting back and forth, she sometimes doesn’t allow sufficient time for an invisible person to respond. Poor Vevers also spends the hour in a terrycloth robe variously wading, sitting, and lying in a pool of water, an effort, one presumes, to emulate theater of the absurd. Though symbolism becomes clear at the end, the pool’s predominance is irritating and distracting during narrative.
Here, Rachel, who finally married Ross after breaking up and coming back together, is sick and tired of the “and” tacked onto her name: Ross and Rachel, Rachel and Ross. Kids have been no help in solidifying a problematic marriage. I’m told the original Ross was consistently selfish. He epitomizes that attribute in the latter part of this play with a bitter, self-serving suggestion that will outrage.
There’s another woman-I think-in the plot and a coworker named Daniel who has a crush on Rachel. It takes awhile to figure out Daniel is not her husband or lover and I’ve not a clue about the woman standing next to someone’s sister. We lurch from a wedding to a hospital room having witnessed one of them appear to have a stroke. ‘Turns out physical manifestations are the result of a brain tumor.
Vivid dreams are described with no indication they aren’t real until the monologue moves on. One of them periodically yells. “She’s my rock,” “Swelling,” “Steroids,” “I’m going to be sick,” “Coffee?” “I thought they’d never leave…” “I want to strike up a conversation with a sassy nurse to break the tension…” Hospital room impressions are frequently unattributable but set a palpable mood. When Ross is drunk in a bar declaring his Cancer we know it’s him.
The patient wrestles with death. Rachel wrestles with history, duty and guilt at the unwittingly cheerful prospect of starting anew. “Whatever happens after you’re gone, I promise to be happy.” Dwell on that phrase for a moment. The play is dramatic and though these are parentheses of effectiveness, ultimately neither clearly communicates nor holds.
Molly Vevers turns emotion and character on a dime, though with no character distinguishing variation. Not her fault. She persuasively addresses audience members, drawing people in, but a decision to break the fourth wall also confuses. The actress’s investment is wrenching.
On the whole, Director Thomas Martin paces too quickly and indulges in hysteria too often. When staccato speech establishes atmosphere, however, he effectively helms.
Photos by Alex Brenner
Ross and Rachel by James Fritz
Directed by Thomas Martin
Featuring Molly Vevers
Through June 5, 2016
59 East 59th Street