Closer plumbs depths of lost souls who find themselves in emotional pits, seem to climb out, but then pratfall into the next one. “Why isn’t love enough?” the program cover asks. That’s an appropriate question in this snapshot of four characters whose lives intertwine around, over, and on top of each other over nearly five years.
Dan brings stranger Alice to the hospital emergency room after literally picking her off the street. Alice is jittery though still maintains total command despite the gruesome gash on her leg and no safe place to go. Matt Baughman as Dan hits his mark in all his roles — I’ve seen him in several — and he covers the playing field well here. Dan, a budding writer, falls for Alice, a stunning Shana Laski, who exudes sensuality but who also has bottomless layers of impenetrable emotional baggage that peel away slowly throughout the play. Dan seems to have the hottest woman of his dreams, but then over the course of a year something happens and he fawns over Anna.
Marnie Kanarek’s Anna is an ice-princess–cool photographer. At one point she’s pursued by both Dan and Larry, her long-suffering dermatologist intended. But then Dan pleads for her with words of endearing affection. In one anxious scene, he implores: why should she sacrifice her happiness and settle to be the placid picket-fenced wife with Larry when she could have the passion of her life with just a snap decision? She can’t resist, succumbs to an affair, and confesses to her betrothed. Matt Bannister as Larry has the steely, got-it-all-together persona of a physician but breaks down into total and complete goo at pivotal moments, pleads for Anna to stay with him, but then later simply must have Alice!
The couples do figure eights around each other, switching alliances and allegiances on so many occasions it’s hard to keep count. All of the characters act on their impulses and drives of the moment. Just when the “amour du jour” routine seemed unnecessarily tedious, one of the characters will ricochet in an unexpected direction with totally different dilemmas and you’re engaged to figure out who’s on first and what happens now.
In one particular scene, Alice is embedded within the emotional depths of Larry so deeply after her breakup with Dan that you think she’s in bedrock. Larry gets her, accepts her for who she is, kinks and all, after she’s opened up to him completely. But then, in the midst of a ruckus sexual round, he says something that puts her off. And she’s done. (Snap.) Just like that. There’s no turning back to clarify, describe, explain — nothing. Laski as Alice abruptly turns on her heels and you can see in her decisive physicality that it’s over. Larry may as well be toast. Those kinds of unexpected twists punctuate the script with cat-and-mouse intensity.
Production design propelled the story through the characters’ emotional roller-coaster rides. Lighting by Don Slater reflected the constantly changing moods that flickered with pinball ferocity. Likewise, Matthew Datcher’s sound design ranged from appealing musical interludes to thumping bass disco beat, complete with glittering mirror ball thanks to superb projections by Michelle Bowen-Ziecheck. The projections provided context and anchored the show with a sense of physical space and place (and served to display porno laptop chat — beware) and even a full moon for evening effect. Set design by Jeffery Asjes was as effective as possible considering all the couch moving and bed opening required for the numerous coupling encounters.
Sexual tension seems to be the driving force in Closer — kinky, funny, freaky, the works. But does it make anybody happier? Couples are drawn together by gravitational forces almost against their will with inexplicable urges and urgency, defiant in their self-direction, even when it’s against their better judgments of what one “should” do. All that, but with no discernable approach to happiness.
While written and first performed in the late ’90s with a London setting, the script feels remarkably current and apropos with a chilly, edgy “anything goes” flair. In one London production, Clive Owen played Dan, then in the Mike Nichols film he got an Oscar nomination as Larry. Marber’s style has been considered a nod to Soderbergh, Pinter, even Mamet.
If you want clear answers to bottom-line questions about “Who’s happy? When? Why? How? At all?” then this isn’t the piece for you. If instead you appreciate watching terrific actors wrestle with age-old dilemmas of the role of sexual arousal in making life decisions and living with the consequences, you might be drawn “closer” to this production than you even realized.
Running Time: Two hours 20 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.
Closer plays April 29 through May 21, 2022, co-produced by Silver Spring Stage and Cogent Theater Collective at Silver Spring Stage, 10145 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD. Tickets ($22–$25 plus a $1.25 fee) are available online.
The Closer program is online here.
COVID Safety: Silver Spring Stage requires that patrons present a photo ID and show proof of vaccination at the time of entering the theater. Silver Spring Stage is also continuing to require masks for all audience members.
CLOSER by Patrick Marber
Featuring: Matt J. Bannister as Larry, Matt Baughman as Dan, Marnie Kanarek as Anna, Shana Lasik as Alice
Producer: Diego Maramba
Director: David Dieudonne
Stage Manager & Assistant Director: Kristen Davis
Assistant Stage Manager: Sophia Menconi
Set Designer: Jeffery Asjes
Lighting Designer: Don Slater
Sound Designer: Matthew Datcher
Costume Designer: Lizzie Bartlett Holman
Properties Designer: Caroline Adams
Projection Designer: Michelle Bowen-Ziecheck
Intimacy/ Fight Choreographer: Mallory Shear
Cogent Theater Collective to debut with Patrick Marber’s ‘Closer’ (news story)