SALT LAKE CITY — Wasatch Theatre Company’s production of Closer by Patrick Marber is a fascinating contemporary drama that explores relationships and challenges questions of morality. Specifically, Marber challenges the assumption that absolute truth is healthy for a relationship and the belief that love and sex bring people closer together.
The plot revolves around four characters—Dan, a writer; Larry, a dermatologist; Alice, a stripper; and Anna, a photographer. The play is set in London and is an elaborate character study of these four unique individuals as they engage in an ultimate game of partner swapping. Rather than keep their felings or infidelity to themselves or behind the back of their partner, the characters are brutally honest about their faithlessness, sometimes exaggerating certain aspects that never occurred to “test the love” of their significant other. Ultimately, each ends up with the partner for whom they are best suited; but eventually these relationships fade as well as each character’s selfishness or flaws keeps them from finding happiness, leaving each character alone by the end of the play.
The style of the play is unique in its creation of scenes and vignettes of sorts that are not clearly linear or specific as to when time passes between events. There are also unconventional scenes where action takes place concurrently with another scene or hop-scotches between the past and present in a single vignette. The play is written as representational—evocative of real happenings and the characters are created as sketches with their texture largely distorted. This requires the audience to fill in the gaps and aid in the construction of the narrative. I found this to be a very effective writing convention because it sucked me in and required me to be an active participant in the creation of the story. And as the story of these relateable characters progressed, I was frequently reminded of various relationships, break ups ,and people that I have known.
I generally approved of Tracy Callahan’s direction of the play. She created an engaging naturalness with the actors in each scene and successfully captured the style of the show with interesting staging and vivid realizations of each character. The contemporary music through scene changes and projections on the screens (designed by Nick Ketterer) also enhanced the storytelling and successfully helped set the mood for each scene. The simple, yet abstract set (designed by Grady McEvoy) was also effective and aided the distorted texture of each scene, easily allowing time and places to merge into one another.
The acting was generally solid. Each actor was well trained in their craft and brought honesty to each of their perspective roles. Anna (Latoya Rhodes) and Larry (Carleton Bluford) were particularly strong in their relationship and chemistry with each other. Alice (Emilie Starr) brought an interesting energy to the show, full of mystery and questioning that kept me engaged in her performance through the entire show as I tried to figure her character out. Two scenes were particularly memorable: The opening scene of the second act where Alice performs as a stripper and Larry comes as a customer to try and lure her to go home with him was successfully unsettling; and the scene where Alice sets up a meeting on Larry’s birthday with Anna and the two women confront each other over the infidelity of their partners was also expertly done. The subtext was oozing and the tension on the stage obvious.
My overarching complaint of the production is that the actors were too careful or subdued in many of the dramatic moments. A key plot point to Closer is the changing nature of the relationships and the juxtaposition of power and displacement between each character. I wanted the actors to let the emotions explode as would happen in key moments. It would have amplified the intensity in the scenes and really explored the extreme human emotions that surface in heartbreak and loss. Examples where the emotions could have been higher include the final scene of act one where Anna tells Larry that she is having an affair and leaving him for Dan. The stakes were not high enough and I wanted the energy and emotion to be jarring, but both actors approached the topic rationally and much too calm for my tastes, making act one not fully reach the climax intended. I especially noticed a lack of development in Tyson Baker’s performance as Dan, a character who constantly maintained the position of power over Larry almost from their first interaction (where Dan impersonates a female sex addict on a porn chat site and sets Larry up for a fake meeting). Dan continues to maintain this power through the affair that he has with Larry’s wife and his success in getting his wife, Anna, to leave Larry for him. I wanted to see this change in power happen when Larry convinces Anna to have sex with him one last time before he will sign the divorce papers. This weakens Dan and his scene where he confronts Larry in his office fell flat. I wanted to see Dan distraught, vulnerable, desperate and falling to pieces; Baker instead was calm and collected, and this shift in power between Dan and Larry was consequentially lost.
Despite these complaints, Wasatch Theatre Company created a strong production of an excellent script and I would strongly recommend this rare opportunity to see a thought provoking and powerful production. Closer is appropriate for a mature audience as it openly discusses and deals with adult themes, language and situations.