By Robert W. Bethune, guest critic
Breathe Art Theatre Project at 1515 Broadway, Detroit. Fri.-Sun., through Oct. 14. Tickets: $20. For information: 519-980-0607 or http://www.breathearttheatre.com.
The title of Patrick Marber’s play, “Closer,” playing at 1515 Broadway courtesy of the Breathe Art Theatre Project, is ironic. The people in this play struggle but do not get closer; what they achieve is intimate enmity too satisfying to let go.
They accomplish this by being thoroughly human. Two men, two women: Dan, a writer who has risen in the profession to the heights of doing obituaries for a living; Alice, a photographer who specializes in portraits of strangers; Anna, a waif who makes her living in sex clubs; and Larry, a blue-collar dermatologist who trolls the Internet for sex.
They meet as strangers, form couples as strangers, love and fight as strangers, uncouple as strangers, re-couple in different combinations as strangers and wind up as strangers in a strange state of estranged intimacy, the once and possibly future relationship. The locus classicus of this kind of play is Arthur Schnitzler’s “La Ronde”; this play does justice to its tradition.
Marber, also known for the play “Dealer’s Choice,” has the spirit of Harold Pinter hovering over him. Like Pinter’s, the dialogue is spare, pointed and aggressive; a thrust and parry of question and answer plays out where truth, fantasy and deception come together. There is one unfortunate scene for the two women where Marber lets the dialogue go squishy – literary; the rest is excellent.
The play is remarkably funny; all about people being human – stupidly intelligent, selfishly generous, lovingly hateful, viciously tender, honestly manipulative and deceitfully truthful. Our laughter is rueful – been there, done that, said that, heard that, ouch! But I’m laughing anyway.
The actors are excellent, as is the direction by Demetri Vacratsis. Kevin Young uses his handsome features and good voice to excellent effect with the narcissistic, immature and self-centered Dan. Danielle Boissoneault as Alice is the waif incarnate, all skin and bones and sensitive face, suddenly showing her claws and going after Katie Galazka as Anna, looking for blood, then withdrawing into disbelieving detachment as she strolls off, telling her to “do the right thing.” Anna spends much of the play in bemused bewilderment; the images from her camera are no help to her. Joel Mitchell as Larry is all big hands, big features, big body, a factory-rat lecher in a white lab coat who honestly deserves the temporary happiness he gets through skillful, yet open, manipulation of the other three.
The production is dark, simple and spare, mostly black. A video screen dominates, but the lighting by Valerie Bonasso makes it leave our attention when it should. Occasional splashes of color in the furniture and costuming are the only visual relief. There is no explicit scene or costume design credit.
Who wins in this play? No one. We leave the theater the richer, but none the wiser, for having spent our evening with four human beings, flawed, searching, surviving. One would like something more, but what there is, is quite well worth our while.