In BFF -- the acronym stands for Best Friends Forever -- the playwright suggests that a frequent ingredient in the complex relationship between girls is guilt. It's a valuable insight -- and one that Ziegler probes keenly in her fine 90-minute play, although it's also one she might have examined even more closely.
As they play opens, the adolescent Lauren (Sasha Eden) and Eliza (Laura Heisler) take a BFF oath by a backyard pool. Their understandable naiveté and the unspoken nature of the affection they feel for each other, however, accounts for their differing reaction to the relationship changes that occur as they mature. Although remaining unsure of whom she is and what she wants, Lauren experiences a relatively normal adolescence, whereas Eliza -- whose father dies when she's still young -- develops threatening psychological problems, with anorexia a crucial symptom. Ziegler presents the disturbing scope of the situation in a series of to-the-point scenes, few of which run more than two or three minutes.
Interspersed among the growing-pains sequences is a later, yet related, episode for the grown-up Lauren, who has become a marine biologist. Concluding a regular yoga break, she meets Seth (Jeremy Webb), a man neurotic enough to be seeing a psychotherapist but who nevertheless seems as more-or-less normal as Lauren. They begin an affair marred by one major sticking point; in an addled moment at their first encounter, Lauren told Seth her name is Eliza, and she never finds the right moment to retract the falsehood. After a certain amount of time has passed, the likeable Seth wants to take the relationship to the next logical level, but Lauren's lie gets in the way. She simply can't handle the pressure she's put on herself.
What's been nagging at Lauren is her guilt over having abandoned Eliza. In using her friend's name, she has momentarily found an extreme compensatory gesture. What Lauren hasn't learned -- as it takes many people a while to learn - is that maturing brings inevitable change. She also needs time to realize that a corollary to change is the inability to change others, particularly others whose mental health is impaired.
Ziegler is to be congratulated for noticing these perhaps abstruse aspects of friendship. Furthermore, she deserves thanks for delving into the issue with such a strong sense of how any number of young women and men talk to each other nowadays. The terse exchanges are exactly right for conversation where defensiveness prevails. Yes, there are instances when the dialogue has the ring of afternoon specials, but maybe any play about young people grappling with these issues would conjure the same association.
Director Josh Hecht has seen to it that the three actors delivering the lines do so with just the right tone. The dark-haired and pretty Eden infuses Lauren with the kind of floating anxiety that is at once interesting and distancing. In addition, Lauren is the kind of person who allows others to get so close but no closer. Webb's Seth is a fellow who's bland on first impression but ultimately proves to have many mitigating attractions. Heisler has found a creditable way to portray Eliza's souring manner and, specifically, her deteriorating physical condition. She also turns up for one scene as a fourth character -- another yoga practitioner with a more clear-headed perspective on effective living.
When Clifton Taylor's cool, bright lights initially go up on the stage, Lauren is provocatively playing with Eliza's hair. And even though Eliza eventually insists she's not a lesbian, the possibility persists that she is and that the two girls are entangled in a one-sided, though latent love affair. While it's true these things often go unconfronted in life, it might have behooved Ziegler to consider the prospect with more dramaturgical directness. That she doesn't is the sole drawback to her otherwise insightful piece.