Ross & Rachel
Review by Linda Buchwald
Off Broadway, Solo Show
Runs through 5 June 16
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street
Produced by MOTOR for Brits Off Broadway
BOTTOM LINE: A well-written and beautifully performed duologue for fans of Friends, haters of Friends, and those with no opinion either way.
Even if you've never watched Friends, you've probably heard of Ross and Rachel. The will-they-or-won't-they, on-again-off-again couple was so pervasive in popular culture that you don't need to have seen an episode to know the phrase, "We were on a break." James Fritz's solo play Ross & Rachel uses that familiarity to explore what it means to buy into the concept of "meant to be."
The characters, both played by Molly Vevers, are in their mid-forties. They are never named, but their background is very similar to the sitcom couple's—she was his sister's best friend, she used to work at a coffee shop, they slept together for the first time at a planetarium, etc. Vevers effortlessly switches back and forth between the two in one monologue, yet it's never confusing who is speaking. The script specifies that the actor should use her own accent. Ross & Rachel starts with the wife upset that everybody thinks of them as a package, always saying their names together, and by using one voice, it shows even more how they have become one person.
It's also smart that Fritz and director Thomas Martin don't have Vevers doing impersonations of Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer. This isn't a Friends parody, but a tragic look at a couple in which one is unhappy but doesn't know how to get out and the other idolizes his spouse so much that he doesn't even think of her as a person. And things take an even darker turn when the husband gets brain cancer (this happens early enough in the show that this isn't a spoiler).
Fritz does reference a lot of Friends moments, but he's never too in your face about it, and it won't detract from the show if you don't pick up on all of them. Lines like, "She's a prom queen and she belongs to me. Doesn't that make you feel great about the world?" get at why so many were invested in this fictional romance while pointing out what is so disturbing about it. For many, it was comforting to see the prom queen and dinosaur nerd end up together. But did they really belong together or was he just enamored with the idea of his sister's popular and pretty friend? She gave up her dream job in Paris to stay with him even though they have nothing in common and in return he refers to her as his property.
I'll admit that I'm a huge Friends fan. Post-Ross & Rachel, I'm not going to stop rewatching episodes and enjoying them, but I'll also be thinking more about why we as a society so often root for a fairy tale ending for characters that ultimately may not be right for each other.
(Ross & Rachel plays at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, through June 5, 2016. The running time is 55 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30, Fridays at 8:30, and Saturdays at 2:30 and 8:30, and Sundays at 3:30. Tickets are $25 ($17.50 for members) and are available at ticketcentral.com. For more information visit 59e59.org.)
Ross & Rachel is by James Fritz. Directed by Thomas Martin. Design is by Alison Neighbour. Sound design is by John McLeod. Lighting design is by Douglas Green.
It is performed by Molly Vevers.
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59E59 Theaters: 59 E 59th St, New York, NY 10022, USA