Too True Romance
Patrick Marber's Closer casts a cynical eye on the true nature of love.
Thursday, June 28, 2001
Pangs of Love: John Farmanesh-Bocca and Julie Hughett fall in lust in Pacific Repertory Theater''s production of Closer.Love is just one of the many--and frequently used--four-letter words in Patrick Marber''s Closer, now playing at the Circle Theater in Carmel. But despite the profusion of the "f" words and the "c" words (both of them), it''s the "l" word--love--that arises as the most obscene expression in the script.
Closer feels a little like a contemporary version of Edward Albee''s 1962 examination of intimate relationships, Who''s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Just as much of society has become more cynical in the last 40 years, Closer is even more cynical than Woolf in its assessment of love and relationships. As one of the wounded characters in this play cries out, "What''s so great about the truth? The truth hurts people. Try lying for a change. It''s the currency of the world."
Closer covers about four years in the lives of four characters, Alice (Lianne Marie Dobbs), a former stripper wandering the streets of London in the ''90s; Dan (John Farmanesh-Bocca), a journalist working in a newspaper obituary department; Larry (John Oswald), a dermatologist; and Anna (Julie Hughett), a photographer.
As the play begins, we are introduced to Alice and Dan, who have just met and who embark on a romantic relationship--despite the fact that Dan is already in a relationship with someone else. As the play progresses, Dan dumps Alice to be with Anna, who has married Larry, who winds up sleeping with Alice, who confronts Anna, who dumps Dan, who returns to Alice, who dumps Larry, who doesn''t care because he''s always loved Anna anyway. It''s a nasty, vicious game of changing partners, with a stomach-churning load of manipulation, bruised feelings, guilt, jealousy and invective all masquerading as "love."
Despite the serious overall tone of the play, Closer does have its lighter moments. There''s a scene in which Dan, the journalist, toys with Larry over the Internet, pretending to be a sex-starved nymphomaniac. As the pair sit on the nearly bare stage hammering away on their keyboards, the text of their obscene conversation is projected on a large screen. The actors make the most of the scene, with Farmanesh-Bocca''s Dan playing out the role of online slut while Oswald''s Larry becomes increasingly excited by the raunchy repartee. Of course, the playfulness of the scene gives way to an underlying mean-spiritedness, when Dan assumes the online identity of Anna, and sets up a meeting between her and a highly aroused Larry.
Elsewhere in the script are lines that glitter among the dross motivations of the characters. In one scene that evoked several knowing laughs, Alice and Anna talked about the expert way in which men handled women''s emotional baggage early in a relationship while hiding their own. And there were more laughs during another scene in which the female orgasm was discussed ("I make myself cum... you''re just in the general vicinity offering valiant assistance." Ouch.) Undoubtedly it was scenes like these that propelled the play into winning the London Evening Standard''s Best Comedy Award in 1997.
We seem to be experiencing a nice run of small, well-crafted ensemble productions lately and Closer keeps that string alive. As the most vulnerable--and ultimately most feral--of the four characters, Lianne Marie Dobbs, is particularly effective. Directed by John Rousseau, Closer''s four actors give nicely nuanced performances, coupled with Rousseau''s vigorous and inventive blocking. There are times the four characters are on stage, apparently unaware of each other''s presence; Rousseau weaves characters around and between each other--underscoring what seems to be the play''s underlying theme: No matter how close we may be to each other, we''re still very much alone.
For a purported comedy, Closer is not an easy play to watch. First there''s the abundance of foul language that will repulse some audiences. Then there''s a lot of frank discussions of sexuality, which will offend others. But for many, the most difficult part of the play is watching the characters lie, cheat and manipulate their way through lust, jealousy and "love." Like it or not, we''re likely to see ourselves reflected, at least to some degree, in Marber''s four characters. And that''s likely to hurt.