What happens when one of the stars of ''Friends,'' a show with an audience measured in the tens of millions, takes to the stage to do L.A. equity-waiver theater, where the nightly audience numbers in the mere tens?
The answer came with the Jan. 22 star-studded premiere of ''Turnaround,'' which has David Schwimmer, Jonathan Silverman, and Tom Everett Scott taking to the boards in West Hollywood's 99-seat Coast Playhouse. You know it's not your average theatrical production when patrons in the audience include ''Friends'' cast members and recent guest stars.
During intermission, Courteney Cox and Lisa Kudrow demonstrated that some Friends really do use the buddy system: Bypassing the line for the ladies' room, Cox commandeered the men's loo while a grinning Kudrow fended off males at the door.
Matthew Perry also showed up to support his castmate, as did recent series guests Selma Blair and Paul Rudd. As if that weren't reason enough for the ''Turnaround'' cast to feel distracted, folding chairs were added for the overflow crowd, meaning that late arrival Renée Zellweger was crossing her suddenly infamous gams mere inches away from the lip of the stage. Others keeping the celebs-to-civilians ratio unusually imbalanced included Jennifer Capriati, Bob Saget, ''ER'''s Maura Tierney, and ''Mind of the Married Man'' star Mike Binder.
The play, a black comedy by Roger Kumble (the writer-director of ''Cruel Intentions'' and director of ''The Sweetest Thing''), satirizes Hollywood at its most venal. Schwimmer's insecure director is so base, if not borderline-evil, he's practically the anti-Ross; Silverman (''The Single Guy'') is almost as irredeemable as a self-aggrandizing agent, leaving Scott (''That Thing You Do!'') as the rehab-bound screenwriter whose soul might be capable of salvation.
These three ''friends'' viciously undercut and even physically attack one another as they share call girls and lines of coke. Inside references arrive by the dozens, all greeted with gales of laughter from this particularly inside audience, with nonstop punchlines (at least till the second act takes a serious turn) predicated on everything from Skybar, the Gersh Agency, and Sherry Lansing to kabbalah classes, the Blockbuster Awards, and Blackberries.
Sample exchange: ''You showed your [private parts] to the Olsen twins.'' ''I thought they were the Hilton sisters!'' And apparently there's room for adding even more topical references: In one aside that got a huge laugh, Schwimmer's character told Scott's, ''You're gacked out of your head, like Sharon Stone at the Golden Globes the other night.''
''We've had a ridiculous amount of fun,'' Silverman told EW.com at a cast party held after the premiere at Hugo's. ''If you could see the inside of our cheeks, they're raw, because we've laughed so much [in rehearsals], and obviously we can't on stage. But even tonight, there were at least two or three times where we felt a little like Harvey Korman and Tim Conway in 'The Carol Burnett Show.'''
Silverman and his old high school buddy Schwimmer in particular are ''having a blast, because we haven't done a play together since 11th grade.... And God bless Mr. Schwimmer. He gave us his entire winter hiatus from 'Friends.' Most people on a successful show will try and go off and make a movie, or go to Maui for three weeks.'' (Schwimmer's hiatus has already come to an end: The production takes Friday nights off because that's the day the actor films ''Friends.'')
Tickets for the six-week run, which is scheduled to end March 2, are harder to come by than seats at the table at an NBC contract-renegotiation session. Schwimmer has to leave the cast at the end of that run, but hopes are high that the production will be extended with someone else filling his nasty designer shoes.
The inevitable question: All this backstabbing and self-absorption are strictly caricature...right? Answers Silverman, darting his eyes around the premiere party: ''The guy I played, or the guy I borrowed from the most, was here tonight. That's all I'm gonna say. And he's not too happy to see me.''