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"I'll Be There for You." Play Inspired by Television's Friends Coming to Houston

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What does the television show Friends mean to you? Maybe it conjures up personal memories of what you were doing during the show's ten-year run (1994-2004), or you've adopted one of the characters as your spirit animal totem, or perhaps you recently fell down a rabbit hole binge-watching on Netflix.

Whatever the connection, there's no denying that the show influenced our culture, introduced new catch phrases and set the bar for sarcasm (thanks a lot, Chandler Bing).

So when playwright Breanna Bietz ran across an article about the show's heavy influence on society, she latched onto the theme for her next play.

"Generally I like taking things on the screen and filtering them back onto the stage, just to kind of break it down a little bit and how, as a society, we are influenced by shows," says Bietz. Her previous play, Terminator: The Musical, incorporated elements from the first and second films in the Terminator franchise to create an absurd, outside-the-box comedy.

Bietz's new play, Insomnia Cafe, had its world premiere at the New Orleans InFringe Fest last spring, and Cone Man Running Productions is bringing the Friends-inspired play to Houston for its regional premiere.

The premise is that a couple of super fans are so hung up on the television sitcom that they try to live out the show in real life. "They kidnap someone to play the role of Chandler," says Bietz. The crazed pair are played in Houston by Travis Ammons and Jenna Morris, and Brian Chambers has the role of the unwitting victim of their plot.

There's a lot of doubling and tripling of characters, and, at first, they're able to maintain the personalities through nuance of mannerism and voice. But things start to unravel quickly as the show progresses. In the New Orleans production, the actors used aprons and wigs to help define the parts.

We also checked in with Lex Laas, who is directing the play for Cone Man Running, about his thoughts on the script and the roles. "There are a lot of moments [Bietz] takes. Famous, stand-outish catch-phrases from Joey and Chandler are in there, with a few extra surprises thrown in."

He labels it a "super dark comedy with moments of humor" but says that there also are moments of pure sincerity and honesty. "These characters are real characters struggling, not just putting on an act, but they also are their own character," says Laas. "Each character plays themself, and then they play all of the other respective Friends. There's also a surprise twist."

We couldn't help but ask, "What's your favorite episode?" Bietz is a fan of "The One Where No One's Ready" (season 3, episode 2), in which Ross Geller becomes increasingly anxious because his friends take too long getting ready for a function. "As a writer I appreciate the economy of using just the apartment, the one location, and what the writers are able to do with those limitations," says Bietz, praising the physical comedy and the pacing.

Different interview, different phone conversation, but Laas chose the exact same episode as his favorite. "It's a Thanksgiving episode where they are going to a fancy dinner for Ross and Ross is trying to get everyone to get ready and Joey is getting mad because Chandler took his chair and so he puts on every single article of clothing that he has," says Laas, though he admits that his "favorite" changes all the time.

So if you consider Monica Geller, Ross Geller, Phoebe Buffay, Chandler Bing, Rachel Green and Joey Tribbiani old friends, then come check out this new take on Friends.

Performances are scheduled for January 12 through January 28. Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. at Obsidian Theater, 3522 White Oak. For information, call 281-972-5897 or visit $15 to $18.

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