Friends shows anything but friendship, which is the point of Abe’s absurdist play. Though best known for his novels, he is a masterful surrealist playwright. Abe’s plays have been compared to those of Edward Albee and Samuel Beckett. One critic has commented that in this play there is an inversion of the Golden Rule, which admonishes one to treat others as one would like to be treated. In Friends, a family, whose mission in life is rescuing lonely people, suddenly appears and moves in on a thirty-one-year-old bachelor in his apartment. Utter strangers, the family consists of an eighty-year-old grandmother, a mother and father, two sons, and three daughters.
The man is unsuccessful in getting the intruders to leave. He finally calls the police, who insist that he has no proof that they are trespassing, and because there is no visible sign of physical violence, they are not considered dangerous. The sweet smiles pasted on the family’s faces lead the policemen to infer that perhaps the man is suffering from a persecution complex. Once the policemen are gone, the family members resume their mental torture of the man. Throughout the play, the image of a broken necklace has important symbolic associations. The family consider themselves called to mend lonely hearts in the same way that a string holds the beads of a necklace together. Almost all the family members comment on their being the string for the necklace.
Soon, the eldest daughter tries to seduce the bachelor; however, it is really one of her younger sisters who at least thinks she is in love with him. Within only a few days, the man loses his fiancé when she is won over by the family, who succeed in making the man look foolish and weak. Deliberately and systematically, they break his spirit and take away his freedom. Ultimately, they put him into a cage. He begins to behave like an animal, and, as his mental condition deteriorates, he assumes a fetal position and soon dies. Only the middle daughter shows any grief, and even she considers that the young man has turned against them. This social satire on sentimentality and on family life is filled with dry humor, which contributes to its bizarre tone.