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Closer Than Ever

Patrick Marber's controversial play about sex vs. love comes to Columbus, Ohio. logo
Creighton James in Closer
The combination of unflinching realism, poetry, and wit found in Closer reflects playwright Patrick Marber's multifaceted background. Marber is a London native with an Oxford degree in English literature who enjoys gambling (blackjack and poker) and who came to playwriting after a stint in standup comedy. Closer, his second play after Dealer's Choice, has won a myriad of London theater awards since its opening in 1997, including the coveted Olivier. But awards are not the true reflection of the impact of this play, which lies in its candid treatment of such issues as adultery, broken relationships, jealousy, rejection, and revenge. People who read Closer 20 years from now will be able to glean from the play an accurate picture of the state of heterosexual relationships at the end of the 20th century.

Reality Theater's re-staging of this confrontational work is in line with the company's mission to produce works that demonstrate bold themes, social relevance, and "cutting-edge" challenges for directors, designers and actors. Marber considers himself traditional; however, Closer holds nothing back in its vivid descriptions of adulterous sex and chat room pornography.

The ragged state of heterosexual relationships becomes painfully evident to the viewer as we are drawn into the lives of Dan (Creighton James), Alice (Laura Gale), Anna (Lori Cannon), and Larry (Carney Gray). Dan is a somewhat weary obituary writer who meets Alice as a result of a car accident. While waiting at the hospital with Dan, Alice goes through his briefcase, notices that the crusts of his sandwich bread are cut off, and immediately falls in love with him. She also reveals that she's a stripper who "knows exactly what men want." Dan eventually leaves his girlfriend, Ruth--a linguist--for Alice and, over the course of a year, writes a book about his new lover's colorful life. Then Dan meets a photographer named Anna, who has been hired to take a photo for the jacket of his book; he is immediately taken with her and entreats her to see him. They exchange kisses and pleasantries while Alice is on her way to the photography studio to meet Dan. Alice overhears their heated conversation and confronts Anna after convincing Dan to leave the room.

From there, things get even more interesting. In a chat room exchange, Dan pretends to be a woman. There he meets a man named Larry and, using the things that Alice has taught him about what men want, Dan (posing as Anna) convinces Larry to meet him at a public park. The real Anna just happens to be there and, eventually, Larry and Anna marry. While married, Anna has an affair with Dan for almost a year before telling Larry. And so on.

It's all so chaotic, and yet so real. As Anna, Lori Cannon increases the sense of realism with her seasoned acting and character making. (Along with Carney Gray, who plays Larry, Cannon was most recently seen in Red Herring Theatre's production of Death Defying Acts.)

Before each scene, props from the previous scene are not removed from the stage, but are simply pushed to the back wall. By the end of the play, a cluttered mass has accumulated, and this mirrors the chaos of the lives being played out before us. We see four people who have shared the most intimate acts on earth, sex and/or love, yet they never manage to become close to one another. There are always parts of themselves that they keep at a safe reserve; they seem to be candid with each other, but are never truly honest about the secret workings of their minds and emotions.

The title of Closer is ironic. What we say about relationships to our friends and how we actually conduct ourselves within them can be two totally different things. Marber's play does an excellent job of shocking, confronting, and convicting the audience--and Reality Theatre does an excellent job of bringing it all to life.

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