The F in “F Theory” — a new comedy being presented by New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch through Sept. 24 — stands for “Friendship.” One character, Marianne (played by Alex Trow), is a social scientist who studies it as coldly and clinically as if she were attempting to understand a new strain of malaria. But the nature of friendship — like the nature of that other form of human attachment that is more commonly the subject of plays (i.e., love) — remains elusive. And “F Theory” is, ultimately, a warm and winning salute to its mysteries.
Trow co-wrote the play (which is receiving its world premiere at NJ Rep) with Megan Loughran, who plays Marianne’s best friend, Ellie. At the start of the play, Marianne are Ellie are bubbly but also somewhat insecure 18-year-old college roommates, and the play follows them through adulthood, marriage, motherhood and — most poignantly — old age.
After college, they live together in New York, and progress from takeout pizza to takeout Indian food. But even when they decide, finally, to live apart from each other, they still talk on the phone all the time, or skype. Even if the subject matter is meaningless, they still want to talk.
The intellectually inclined Marianne, whose family is rich, has a much easier time finding her way in life — both romantically and professionally — than the artistic and, often, financially struggling Ellie. Marianne writes a best-selling book about friendship that gives Ellie’s floundering musical career a boost, but also — in a twist that’s unexpectedly dark, given the breeziness of the play’s early scenes — strains the relationship.
Trow and Loughran are the only actresses in the play, though there are a number of other small roles, both male and female, that they also take on, after leaving the stage and returning in a different costume. There are some good opportunities for comic relief in these segments, as well as another kind of relief: The introduction of some different voices, which helps keep the play from being too relentingly focused on the Marianne/Ellie relationship.
Between scenes, portions of songs about friendship — The White Stripes’ “We’re Going to Be Friends,” Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” and so on — are heard. Just like it’s more common for playwrights to write about love than friendship, there are a lot more songs about that subject, too. But maybe — when you think about it — more about friendship than you would expect.
“F Theory” will be presented at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch through Sept. 24. (In the Sept. 15-17 performances, Pheonix Vaughn will play Marianne). Visit njrep.org.