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Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

Laura Heisler, Sasha Eden, and Jeremy Webb.
Photo by Max Ruby.

"Forever" is believable as a children's vow, but adults know better than to assume adolescent inertia will always exert its hold. Or do they? Lost somewhere in the fluster of BFF, Anna Ziegler's new play at the DR2 Theatre, is a notion that will be uncomfortably recognizable to many who have already "grown up": Sometimes childish promises are the most important - and difficult - to keep.

Whether Ziegler's application of that concept works is another matter. This story of two childhood friends who pinky swear they'll be Best Friends Forever (hence the show's title) finds that added layer of maturity only in its final 20 minutes, when Ziegler finally starts probing the emotional fine print of the girls' lifetime agreement. Unfortunately, many of the preceding scenes, which document the girls' friendship over the course of the most turbulent times of their lives, won't hold many surprises for anyone over the age of 12.

That, by the way, is the age of both Lauren (Sasha Eden) and Eliza (Laura Heisler) when we first meet them lounging beside a pool, pondering the future and the places they'll one day have in it. Only one thing's for sure: Wherever they live (Eliza suggests they share an apartment) or whoever they marry (Lauren insists "He's gotta be hot"), they will never not be together.

Never comes earlier than expected, as Lauren blossoms quickly into a shapely woman and starts attracting (and being attracted to) boys at school. Eliza, whose body remains as flat as her social ambitions, is content for everything to remain as it was; with a dead father and a clingy mother, she needs stability now more than ever. But upon finding this support mechanism failing, she becomes increasingly protective and even jealous of Lauren as her new interests begin pulling her farther from the friend who once mattered so much to her.

Even after they separate, however, Eliza is never far from Lauren's mind. Interposed with the scenes focusing on Lauren's journey away from Eliza are those set roughly 15 years later showing her approach toward Seth (Jeremy Webb). He's an appealing young man, a banker, who displays more genuine affection towards Lauren than most people can manage. Most tellingly, he's also scattered, reluctant, and redheaded - just as Eliza was, and that's enough to unwittingly summon for Lauren a ghost she's long thought she exorcised.

Director Josh Hecht's understated staging gives many of the play's scenes a puzzle-like feel, which helps us derive some fun from unraveling the mystery of Eliza's disappearance and eventual return. But once we've done that - and if you're on the ball, you'll have it all figured out by the fourth of the play's 23 scenes - there's not much left to BFF. Ziegler has perhaps overestimated her ability to maintain suspense over the play's central question of what happened to Lauren and Eliza, and has found little new in the specifics of the relationship surrounding it.

It doesn't help that Eden is the only one to make anything substantial of her role. A perky presence with a dark lining, she convinces as both an impetuous teenager and a hollowed-out adult more careful than she should be with her heart. Her performance bridges the gaps, of both time and feeling, between the two competing time frames, making everything exist in one uneasy reality. Webb spends so much of his time playing dumbstruck, his Seth soon just seems plain dumb. As Eliza, Heisler shoots straight past needy and into psychotic, making her a mush-mouthed and incurable basket case rather than a girl who just wants someone to be there for her.

One of the play's saddest ironies is that misfits Eliza and Seth need Lauren more than she needs them - at least at first. But late in the play she comes to understand just what others have to offer her: She meets a woman named Megan, who also bears a striking resemblance to Eliza and Seth, and whose clear-eyed outlook on life speaks to Lauren in a way no one else's ever has. It's almost as though Megan knows Lauren better than Lauren knows herself.

It's when Lauren is forced to look at who she's become in the light of Megan's piercing gaze that BFF starts hitting home. From there on out, the play resonates with honesty and insight that force us to consider how those we've known continue to influence us long after we think they're gone; by the touching end of BFF, Ziegler has made a lot of salient, sobering points about what forever truly means. If only it didn't take her forever to get there.

Through March 17
DR2 Theatre, 103 East 15th Street at 20 Union Square East
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Telecharge

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