The young ensemble theater company The Seeing Place returns this season with Patrick Marber's 1997, four-person melodrama, Closer, about the complexities of sexual relationships in the pre-dawn of social media.
Many of the problems I had with this play had to do with the script, and I will do my best to differentiate.
When the play begins we are presented with Dan, an obituary writer but aspiring novelist, and Alice, an enigmatic (drifter? exotic dancer?) young girl with a bloodied knee who was fortunate enough to step in front of an oncoming taxi cab just as Dan was walking by. The two flirt sitting in a hospital waiting room, and proceed to share deeply revealing and oddly novelistic slices of their personal tragedies completely unprompted. The awkwardness of the scene is hardly digested before we enter the next scene - over a year later - by which time Dan and Alice have begun a relationship that has soured enough for him to write a book about her sordid former life as a stripper, and for him to now proposition his head shot photographer, a slightly older woman named Anna, for sex. Enter - through an X-rated computer chat inexplicably initiated by Dan masquerading as Anna - Larry, the dermatologist. The rest of the play, save for an uncharacteristic moment of truth near the end, moves with much the same direction-less speed and angst as the four characters couple, de-couple, and, Marber wants you to know, genuinely suffer at the hands of their partners.When I think of Closer, I picture all of its missing scenes - full of nuance and intention - sitting on a cutting room floor somewhere waiting to be seen. I say this because I truly believe that a good production of this play requires a fair amount of pretending.
An actor or director might phrase it differently and say that Closer requires more than a few manufactured moments - Why does Dan suddenly desire Anna? At what point did Dan decide Alice was "needy?" What reason does Anna have to date Larry after she meets him in the park? These questions aren't answered in the script, but must be addressed in the production, and unfortunately, the cast as a whole wasn't able to provide many answers. It often seemed as though the actors were rushing through Marber's ridiculous dialogue to get to the part where it all to comes together, but in the end, they were putting too much trust in faulty material.
Though, there were a few precious moments when things did appear to come together. Early in the play Anna takes Alice's picture as Alice confronts her about Dan. Elyse Fisher, the actress playing Alice, was good at imbuing Alice's otherwise lethargic dialogue with greater depth. The directness of Alice's appeal as Anna snapped her photograph created a moment that really resonated.
Another moment overcame Marber's particularly clumsy dramatic handling of the concept of time. We don't watch time accumulate in Closer, rather we are told that time accumulates - until a scene between Alice and Dan near the end of the play when, in a hotel room, Fisher and BranDon Walker (Dan) bring what is easily Closer's best scene to a climax as we watch them reminisce then remember then lie. But even the well-played moments couldn't off set the production's weaker ones. For instance, I questioned the director's instincts when - in a contentious scene between Larry and Anna involving the violation of a certain couch - he chose to play the entire scene on said couch.
In the end, one too many scenes caved under the clunky weight of Marber's words. I was just sorry the cast didn't put up more of a fight.