note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi
Alice … Cristi Miles
Dan … Ben Lambert
Anna … Alex Zielke
Larry … Andrew Sarno
Patrick Marber’s award-winning CLOSER at the Devanaughn Theatre will divide the older and younger generations and therefore both age groups should attend (ideally, at the same performance) --- greybeards like me will shake their heads over how human relationships have unraveled over the past few decades due to too much freedom and not enough compromise; the younger crowd will see themselves reflected in Mr. Marber’s cool, unblinking mirror as he charts the criss-crossing between four modern-day Londoners: Alice, a street-waif and part-time stripper, Dan, a would-be novelist who writes newspaper obituaries, Anna, a professional photographer, and Larry, a dermatologist. Alice and Dan become lovers after she has been injured in traffic and he has rushed her to Larry’s hospital; at a photo shoot, Dan comes on to Anna who politely rejects him --- in retaliation, Dan fixes her up with the unsuspecting Larry via an “Anna” chat on the internet; having once met (to his embarrassment and her confusion), Anna and Larry marry but Anna becomes involved with Dan, after all (she considers having his babies, not Larry’s); Alice moves out of Dan’s life and take up stripping again; she begins an affair with Larry who stops by the club one night as he and Anna have separated for the time being, etc., etc., and etc., again. A generation ago, CLOSER would have been a hip comedy among swinging singles; Mr. Marber’s quartet mix and match in a bleak urban landscape where love and commitment are subject to mercurial whim such as Alice choosing to fall in love with Dan mainly because he cuts the crusts off his sandwiches, and Mr. Marber keeps inserting new wrinkles in the cloth as soon as he has smoothed out preceding ones, finally calling it quits after exhausting all the repetitive possibilities (save for a same-sex relationship) and leading each character into his or her personal dead-end. His dialogue is excellent --- crisp and flippant in the British manner and very, very lifelike --- but his take on modern-day couplings can best be summed up by one character describing the human heart (the poetic source of love’s inspiration) as merely being a muscle surrounded by blood.
But, then, this is a greybeard preaching and perhaps CLOSER is indeed a hip, swinging comedy geared for today’s younger crowd and on the afternoon I attended, you couldn't have found two more contrasting reactions: I yearned to bang the characters’ heads together over their never being satisfied with half a loaf and becoming more and more alienated as they got “closer” to one another; the younger portion of the audience, however, found them hilarious, for the most part (or, at least, laughable). Perhaps Mr. Marber is a brilliant satirist, after all, knowing exactly how to pin his foursome to the wall and watch them squirm without their knowing it. If CLOSER is such a comedy, then Dani Duggan has gone the opposite route and directed it quite seriously: when one character lashes out you feel the blood come to the surface of another’s skin. Fortunately, once Ms. Duggan has set the production’s tone she doesn’t stray from it and she coaxes out what lies underneath the dialogue compared to the empty word-spinning at the Huntington’s THE REAL THING just a few blocks up the street. Her four actors perform with the fresh, honest intimacy of independent films, reinforced by the Devanaughn’s close quarters so that, looking back, you remember everything in close-up. Cristi Miles’ Alice glows with the innocence of a back-alley kitten which makes her stripteasing all the more erotic and disturbing in its indifference and Alex Zielke’s Anna is an affecting, low-key study of honest, frustrated sensuality, showing how adultery can happen to anyone --- all it takes is a ring on one’s finger. Ben Lambert and Andrew Sarno are no less impressive at capturing Dan and Larry’s evolving centers: Mr. Lambert’s Ben begins hunched and cautious; once Alice is under his belt, he takes on a cocky machismo and truly startles when he shrivels again in his final comeuppance; Mr. Sarno’s loner develops into a tough-skinned Lothario with enough of a moral conscience that allows him to come out with the fewest scars. All four accents are consistently good.
Gerald Clements’ setting consists of four blank panels being slid into ever-changing backgrounds and the Mss. Miles and Zielke and the Messrs. Lambert and Sarno help move furniture between scenes with no loss to their characters’ intensity; they even look as fresh and relaxed at curtain call as they do when they begin wandering into CLOSER’s uncharted territory; a territory in which much of today’s younger audiences would be --- sadly --- at home.