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Closer
by Patrick Marber
Directed by Tom Martin
Theatre Lab
January 14, 2017

Larissa White Photo by Justin Foizey Theatre Lab

Larissa White
Photo by Justin Foizey
Theatre Lab

Closer isn’t exactly a pleasant play. Essentially a character study of four interconnected lives in modern London, Patrick Marber’s play doesn’t exactly present easy situations or easy to like characters. It’s a gritty world of single Londoners looking for love, sex, validation, identity, and more. As the newest production from Theatre Lab, Closer can be fascinating, with some strong performances and clever staging. It’s an ambitious production that is certainly thought-provoking, but it’s not without flaws.

The story follows four Londoners and their increasingly messy intertwined relationships. We first meet the young, iconoclastic Alice (Larissa White) in a hospital emergency room after she’s been hit by a car after trying to cross the street without looking. She’s been “rescued” by Dan (Brock Russell), an aspiring author who writes obituaries for a newspaper, and the two begin a relationship that continues on and off throughout the course of the play. There’s also Larry (Andrew Michael Neiman), an unsuspecting doctor who happens to be there on the same day Alice and Dan meet, although it’s not until later that he’s brought into something of a bizarre love square when the manipulative Dan tricks him by way of an internet sex chat room into meeting photographer Anna (Gabrielle Greer), who likes Larry but shares something of an addictive attraction with Dan, despite the fact that Dan is still in a relationship with Alice. In the midst of all the romantic entanglements, the characters pursue their career goals and dreams, experiencing success, failure, and the challenges of compromise of ideals and struggles with ego and entitlement. The first act comes across more as a catalog of selfishness, as the character pursue their romantic, sexual and career goals with little thought of the others involved. This is the kind of play that might make you hate it if you only watch the first act, but the second act explores the characters and their situations with more depth, essentially deconstructing the situations and characters to challenge their own senses of who they are and their purpose in life.

It’s a fascinating character study, and to make this play work, casting and chemistry are essential. This production is cast well in terms of the individual performances, but its biggest flaw is a lack of chemistry in one of the key relationships, that between Dan and Anna. Greer is excellent as the conflicted and mostly well-meaning Anna, and Russell is convincing as the manipulative, needy Dan, but I just didn’t believe the intense connection and electric attraction the two are supposed to share. Both have much better chemistry with the other cast members. I believe Greer’s connection with Neimain’s earnest but hapless Larry, and Russell’s with White’s yearning, damaged Alice, but the Dan/Anna match made little sense to me as played out here. Still, it’s a compelling work of theatre, and the performances are strong in every other area, with White being the particular standout for her sometimes fierce, sometimes fragile portrayal of a complex, enigmatic character. All of the performers also exhibit credible if not perfect English accents, as well.

Technically, the show is more on the minimalist side, being staged on a mostly bare stage. Scenic designer Mark Wilson’s set relies largely on some movable furniture and on highly evocative projections. Wilson’s lighting is also striking and memorable, and the players are outfitted by costume designer Marcy Weigert in suitable attire ranging from Dan’s more preppy looks to Alice’s colorful, outrageous ensembles.

Closer is well-staged piece, although the passage of time is sometimes not as clear as it could be. The sense of tension builds well, especially in the emotionally charged second act. It’s a challenging, sometimes difficult play examining the relationships of characters that aren’t always likable, but as portrayed at Theatre Lab, they still manage to be fascinating, especially in their relationships even though one isn’t particularly convincing. Like the story itself and its characters, this production is worth getting to know even with its imperfections.

Andrew Michael Neiman, Gabrielle Greer Photo by Justin Foizey Theatre Lab

Andrew Michael Neiman, Gabrielle Greer
Photo by Justin Foizey
Theatre Lab

 Theatre Lab is presenting Closer at the .ZACK in Grand Center until January 22, 2017.

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