KPBS AIRDATE: November 22, 2002
Everyone knows it’s a four-letter word. Love, that is. Sometimes painful, brutal, damaging, heartbreaking. Well, that seems to be the opinion of British playwright Patrick Marber, whose 1997 play, “Closer,” won the Olivier Award and a Tony nomination. The title is ironic; these four singles are terrified of getting closer; they push each other away at every opportunity. In “The Only Game in Town,” written in 1968 by Pulitzer Prize winner Frank Gilroy, love is something to be feared and avoided, at almost any cost. Both plays show us the seamy, steamy underside of relationship; they’re witty, gritty and decidedly sexy. One is set in a decadent 1990s London, the other in a seedy 1960s Las Vegas. One’s a dark dramedy; the other a bittersweet romance. And both are getting marvelous local productions from impressive, emerging theater companies.
Last year, I called North County’s New Village Arts “the most exciting new theatre company” in town. They’ve lived up to all expectations. Now, their second season opener is a knockout, starring the immensely talented husband-and-wife team that co-founded the company. Kristianne Kurner is the long-suffering Vegas showgirl who’s waiting for her married man to make up his mind. Francis Gercke is a down-on-his luck loser of a lounge singer, a compulsive gambler who wants to risk it all with her. Watching their relationship evolve is a beautiful thing. Kurner is gorgeously self-protective, and Gercke, as always, is electrifying, with his fast-talk and nervous energy. These graduates of the Actors Studio are a terrific addition to the theater community. Their productions are always gripping and intense, and this one even has a positive payoff. A wonderful, suspenseful, Vegas-style evening, not in its simple but spot-on setting, but in its delicious emotional gamble.
No one wins in Marber’s “Closer,” a crap-shoot by any definition. The nasty little piece shows relationship to be a stomach-churning ride, filled with loneliness, lust, jealousy, infidelity, anger, rejection, guilt, despair and lots of foul language. This one’s not for the linguistically squeamish, but it features some dazzling performances, especially by Jessica John as the ultra-erotic stripper, and her co-producer, Lauren Zimmerman as a confused and often short-sighted photographer. The fellow-actors formed Backyard Productions, which tackles some ferocious theatrical fare. Director Ruff Yeager, who also created the scenic and sound design, effectively adds Tony Gorodeckas and Daren Scott to round out the foursome in this sexy, self-destructive, partner-swapping, brutal yet intriguing look at love.
>©2002 Patté Productions Inc.