by Neil Smith
BBC News Online
Friends star Matthew Perry and film actress Minnie Driver have come under pressure to do well in David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago.
The play is an hour and and 15 minutes long
With so many American stars coming over to London to tread the boards, you wonder who is minding the store in Hollywood.
Indeed, what started as a casting coup - Nicole Kidman nude, Kevin Spacey cometh - has now become a regular fixture of the Theatreland calendar.
The latest celeb to join the cred-boosting exodus is Matthew Perry - Chandler Bing in Friends - who headlines a polished but ultimately redundant revival of David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago.
He is joined by fellow American Hank Azaria and homegrown sexpot Minnie Driver, with relative unknown Kelly Reilly bringing up the rear.
Back in 1974 this acerbic four-hander - the first Mamet play to be produced in Britain - had all the bracing impact of a swear-word on Jackanory.
However, its bitter commentary on modern relationships has since been superceded - not least by Neil LaBute, whose misogynistic work on stage and screen has written a whole new chapter in the sex-war manual.
Azaria (left) stars in The Simpsons
There may be some who will still be shocked by Perversity's fruity dialogue and liberal use of the C-word.
But for most of us Mamet's ribald banter and potty mouth seem like relics from a pre-AIDS era as distant from our own as Ancient Greece.
Perry plays Danny, an office drone embarking on a fling with commercial illustrator Deborah (Reilly).
Their blossoming relationship is regarded with disdain by their respective best friends - boorish chauvinist Bernie (Azaria) and bitchy schoolmarm Joan (Driver).
Over 30 brief scenes we see Danny and Deb's affair undermined by Bernie and Joan's snippy, calculated comments - possibly, director Lindsay Posner implies, out of latent homosexual jealousy.
With Friends like these, who needs enemies?
Driver puts in a good performance
Easily manipulated and sexually insecure, Danny is a world away from wisecracking Chandler.
But Perry appears incapable of revealing his character's dark side, falling back instead on his usual repertoire of odd vocal inflections and exaggerated double-takes.
Driver fares better, bringing a flinty brittleness to her underwritten role, while Reilly more than matches her more celebrated co-stars.
It is Azaria, though, who steals the show with his outrageous fantasies and swaggering, boastful machismo.
For all that, the fact remains that Mamet's drama has lost both its edge and topicality, resembling less a dispatch from the sexual front-line and more a raunchy episode of, well, Friends.
Posner's staging is admirably slick and utilises over 20 songs from the period ranging from Bruce Springsteen and Barry White to, fittingly, Chicago.
But the acting is not good enough, nor the Perversity perverse enough, to justify giving Mamet's dated diatribes another airing.
Sexual Perversity in Chicago is at the Comedy Theatre in London until 2 August.