Published in Gay and Lesbian Times November 21, 2002
Whoever said ‘Love conquers all’ and ‘Honesty is the best policy?’ Certainly not British playwright Patrick Marber, in his 1997 play, “Closer.” One character actually says to another: “What’s so great about the truth? The truth hurts people. Try lying for a change. It’s the currency of the world.”
Ironically, “Closer” is really about people pushing each other away, craving intimacy but doing anything to protect themselves from it. This dark view of the underbelly of love has been compared to Coward’s “Private Lives,” Pinter’s “Betrayal” and Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” It was only Marber’s second play, and it won the coveted Olivier Award when it opened in London and was nominated for a Tony in New York in 1999. It’s a wicked, sexy little relationship drama (though many consider it a dark comedy), filled with loneliness, lust, jealousy, infidelity, rejection, guilt, despair and four-letter words. Here’s a head-spinning plot summary:
Alice is a stripper — very young, very pretty and extremely self-destructive. She takes up with Dan, a writer of obituaries, who picks her up off the pavement after she’s been hit by a cab. Alice never looks before crossing the street — which has both a real and a metaphorical effect on the progress of her life. Dan meets photographer Anna and takes a liking to her. One night, at an internet porn-site, Dan pretends to be Anna, fooling Larry, a sex-obsessed dermatologist, into meeting her. Larry and Anna end up married, but Dan has an affair with Anna and leaves Alice. Anna leaves Larry, who meets Alice by chance and they have a fling. Larry and Anna get it on before they get a divorce. Dan and Alice get back together, but only briefly. Ultimately, disaster strikes, but you get the feeling that no one is the better for it, and the whole bleak, futile cycle (or one exactly like it) will begin all over again.
This is not a pretty picture of the singles scene, or of love in the late 20th/early 21st century. You get the feeling that Marber, who admits that the piece reflects his own emotions and experiences, sees the Love Boat as a sinking ship.
What he gives us is a series of rapid-fire ‘snapshot’ scenes… which drag a bit in the Backyard Productions presentation at 6th@ Penn. There’s some unnecessary stage business (enough with the symbolic moving of the isolated pedestals!), and a giveaway opening sequence that ruins the later fact-unfolding. But the performances are terrific, especially by Backyard co-founders, executive artistic directors and producers, Jessica John (as the ultra-erotic Alice) and Lauren Zimmerman (as the equally confused Anna). They’re both irresistible. The men have their moments, too. Tony Gorodeckas is seductive in a sleazy, slimy way, and Daren Scott veers precariously (but generally successfully) from pathetic to malicious as the unhealthy doctor, Larry. It’s not always clear where the responsibility for good performances rests: with competent actors or a director who coaxes the best from them. Ruff Yeager, who also designed the photographically provocative set and the jazzy sound, has to get credit for making it all come together so credibly. The intimate space of 6th@ Penn Theatre brings you “Closer” to the action, and that forces you to feel for these unwholesome, unlikable characters and their tawdry (at times brutally familiar) loves and lives.
Backyard Productions’ “Closer” continues through December 1 at 6th @ Penn Theatre; 619-688-9210.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc.