Actors mesh well in 'Closer'
Published: Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 12:08 p.m.
'Closer," the new play at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, doesn't examine relationships - it pulverizes them.
The play written by Patrick Marber debuted in London in 1997. Its popularity was enhanced by the 2004 film that featured a top-tier cast and a screenplay by the playwright.
The stars of Mike Nichols' film (Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, Jude Law and Clive Owen) have nothing on the four extremely talented people who comprise the players in the Acrosstown's production. Director James T. Henri could not have found a better quartet to personify the characters who make up the dark and profane world created by Marber's play.
Larry (Casey Stern) has the assertiveness and self-assuredness that befits his role as a physician. He is also skilled in manipulation and bullying, but charming. Dan (Edward "Doc" Ray) typifies the frustrated writer whose creativity is stifled by a dead end job writing obituaries. Ray's scenes are some of the show's best.
Anna (Sarah Nesselroade), who seeks the faces of strangers to photograph for her exhibition, has the pain of life experience in her face. Alice (Liddy Freeman) is young and saucy but shows little of her real self as she bares all in private rooms to satisfy the fantasies of paying customers. Freeman has a remarkable stage presence and capacity for variety in her acting.
The occupations of these people are merely incidental to the conceit, however, as the play is really about intimacy and the lack of constancy in modern relationships. The fact that Anna is a photographer is a device that allows her to meet Dan who is living with Alice, whom he met and carried to the hospital when she suffered a minor injury from being hit by a cab.
Dan brings Larry and Anna together through a fantastic set of circumstances that involve Internet chat-room prurience and unlikely coincidence. The couples then become interchangeable with Dan leaving Alice for Anna and Anna asking Larry for a divorce so she can be with Dan. Larry eventually becomes a fly in the ointment by souring Dan's relationship with Anna as well as the subsequent renewal of Dan's affair with Alice.
This is a long show with lots of conversation. Many of the exchanges between the characters concern sexual matters that are graphically described and leave nothing to the imagination.
The initial attraction between the various parties is portrayed as immediate and intense. The characters are quickly enamored of each other but unable to develop a deep affection or attachment for their partner of the moment. Instead, each is ready after a while to spring into another bed. If the object of each pairing is to become closer to each other, they never achieve it.
The problems are with the play and not the production. All of the actors are credible and excellent. Director Henri has encouraged them to be as real with each other as possible, which unfortunately results at times in dialogue that is sotto voce, perhaps consistent with the circumstances under which it is uttered but difficult to hear. This is a minor complaint, however, given the effort they are making in and succeeding at finding their characters within themselves and sharing them with us.
Set design by the director and Esther Biggs complements the excellent performances. A number of different settings are accomplished by wooden boxes of different shapes and sizes that are placed about the stage by the efficient stage crew for each of the 12 scenes. Through these pieces we can imagine a hospital waiting room, various flats, an art gallery and a strip club, among others. It is a perfect way to present this show.
Lighting design is attributed to Leslee Everett who uses only a few fixtures but is able to illuminate the crucial areas in each scene while bleeding the light to the outskirts of the stage. The garish lighting of an exotic dance club is accomplished with intermittent flashes of color.
Shannon Jackson is the costumer for the show and has done a fine job creating clothing that is interesting for the cast. She has provided much variety in the gowns and accessories, including a convincing skin-tight outfit suitable for a performer in a strip joint.
"Closer" is not a sit-back-and-relax type of show that one can see without giving some thought to the content. Some will be offended or uncomfortable with the language, but the performances make it worthwhile as the actors detail their lives together with brutal honesty.
What: Drama about four unfaithful lovers by British playwright Patrick Marber.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 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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