It’s unusual in theater-going to see two powerful, well-written new plays back to back. It is rarer still to see them performed by the same producing group. The New Jersey Repertory Co. in Long Branch has pulled off this feat, first with Halftime With Don in July and now with the world premiere of F Theory.
Playwrights Megan Loughran and Alex Trow have written a piece that examines the nature of friendship: How it can start from the most unlikely of pairings, be sustained through major changes in both friends’ lives, and mean more—and less—than family or lovers. We meet Marianne and Ellie as college roommates from vastly different socioeconomic backgrounds, seemingly with little in common, yet each finding in the other something of value that they lack in themselves. As the years progress, the friends follow different paths —Marianne as a globe-trotting anthropologist with a husband and daughter, and Ellie forging a career in music while staying single. Their evolving views on what true friendship entails test the relationship they’ve forged, leading to a surprising yet touching denouement.
In case you’re inclined to think that casting the playwrights in their own work is a publicity stunt, think again. It’s clear from the start that Loughran and Trow are perfectly cast as Ellie and Marianne, respectively. With only changes of costume, hair, and voice, they seamlessly portray the time-wrought changes in their characters. Working with director Ethan Heard, the actresses create a celebration of two people forging a relationship that can transcend time and space, touching on universal themes and cultural references, amazingly without once descending into cliché.
On the technical side, credit must be given to Jessica Parks’ set design, which cleverly utilizes pull-out curtain screens for quick costume changes. The infinitely re-arrangeable contemporary furniture designed by Marisa Procopio takes us from a college dorm room to a sophisticated restaurant, from a couples resort to television talk show studios. Patricia E. Doherty is also to be commended for her costume designs, always faithful to the characters’ identities and circumstances at any given time.
F Theory is a magnificent new play that many contemporary actresses will doubtless jump at the chance to perform. Artistic Director SuzAnne Barabas and Executive Producer Gabor Barabas have once again come through with a powerful, provocative, and deeply human play, keeping faith with their company’s mission to nurture new plays and new playwrights.
For anyone who has a special friendship in his or her life, for anyone who is passionate about creating and preserving human interactions, for anyone who cares about outstanding theater, I strongly recommend seeing F Theory.
F Theory is presented by the New Jersey Repertory Co. at their theater in Long Branch through Sept.r 24. For tickets and information, visit njrep.org