Patrick Marber's 'Closer' brings dishonesty, emptiness together


Published: Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 11:56 a.m.

Love hurts. And love's pain over time is the premise examined on the figurative operating table of Patrick Marber's four-character play "Closer," which opens Friday at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre.

A photographer, a dermatologist, a stripper and an obituary writer stand at the corners of Marber's grim central romantic quadrilateral.

Powerless before the bonds that wrench them toward and away from one another, they repeatedly swap partners in a cynical dance that could make Brecht's outlook on love look as sunny as "Sesame Street."

"Because the play revolves around four people who kind of go back and forth with relationships, a lot of my set is moving around in a similar sort of fashion," says director James T. Henri.

"The characters share their partners over four and a half years and they all share these same pieces of furniture."

The unfaithful partners answer to an immutable cry to get closer to someone. "All of the characters have a lot of emptiness. A lot of relationships that occur are based on a universal idea that we all gravitate toward people who for lack of a better term complete us," Henri says.

"The characters are empty and needing and I think the play is written like this on purpose."

The professions of the characters themselves register meaning in the play.

The portrait photographer (Sarah Nessleroade) has a longing to capture someone, while the stripper (Liddy Freeman) has an erotic infatuation and the dermatologist (Casey Stern) needs to get under someone's skin.

And in acknowledgement of their own mortality, the obituary writer, Dan (Edward Ray), becomes the play's prophet of doom. For a man who writes professionally about death, he is drawn to the quirky stripper Alice.

"She kind of opens his eyes apart from his daily grind of going to writing obituaries of grandmothers," says Ray, who had to get over the struggle he felt in playing a disloyal character.

"I've never left somebody for somebody else," he says. "It's just beyond my grasp. So it's been really interesting for me to find out what would cause somebody to leave somebody whether it's for mere physical attraction or if there's really more to it."

The 2004, star-studded film version (with Natalie Portman as the stripper, Jude Law as the obituary writer, Julia Roberts as the photographer and Clive Owen as the dermatologist) contained an almost verbatim version of the play's witty script. But the film received criticism for characters that audiences couldn't get close to or feel sorry for.

"A lot of us went in knowing the film much better than the play," Henri says. "I first met 'Closer' as the film, and the main complaints I heard were that people thought the characters got what they deserved. (So) I went in determined to find the human nature and the frailty and the sympathy behind the characters and actors went with me.

"These actors are really dealing with these emotions with the raw and harsh nature of the truth behind it."

As shared by the characters in the play, Marber's cutting dialogue comes to breathing and seething life, Henri says.

"The dialogue is fantastic," he says. "Throughout the rehearsal every line is the next correct thing to say. The play is so real. It makes people squirm because it hits on some nerves."

The play draws its women, Anna and Alice, with a certain sensibility while Daniel and Larry want different things out of life.

"I think that both of the women are sort of warmer and they're seeking (a) home while the men are seeking almost just a woman or a warm body in a way," Henri says. "The women are a bit more complex characters, but each of them have an emptiness that we have look to have filled."

Henri's cast see themselves in the roles they inhabit, so rehearsals have been emotionally gripping, the director says.

"We've really been working on the character and emotional content we're dealing with some very intense themes and long time frame," Henri says. "We could only do some of the scenes once because it's so intense.

"It's just so real, which is why there's a universal understanding with the audience that any playhouse can create."

'Closer'

What: Drama about four unfaithful lovers by British playwright Patrick Marber.

When: opens 8 p.m. Friday and runs 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturday through Jan. 31, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Jan. 31 only.

Where: Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, 619 South Main St.

Tickets: $10, $8 for students, seniors, educators and military personnel; available at Book Gallery West, 4121 NW 16th Blvd., and at the door one hour before curtain time.

'Closer'

What: Drama about four unfaithful lovers by British playwright Patrick Marber.

When: opens 8 p.m. Friday and runs 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturday through Jan. 31, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Jan. 31 only.

Where: Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, 619 South Main St.

Tickets: $10, $8 for students, seniors, educators and military personnel; available at Book Gallery West, 4121 NW 16th Blvd., and at the door one hour before curtain time.

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From left, Edward Ray, Liddy Freeman, Casey Stern and Sarah Nessleroade star in "Closer," opening Friday at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre.

From left, Edward Ray, Liddy Freeman, Casey Stern and Sarah Nessleroade star in "Closer," opening Friday at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre.

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