Closer: Within Fucking Distance

Local Arts Reviews


Closer: Within Fucking Distance

Zachary Scott Theatre Center Whisenhunt Arena Stage,

through August 13

Patrick Marber's Closer is playing at Zach Scott, and merciful heavens but it's so edifying to have it there, bracing and brilliantly bitter amidst the usual buffet of musical confections and uplifting personal dramas.

There's a certain British way of depicting life, a particular shaping and shading that flows through so many of their narrative creations, whether comedy or drama or situations beyond or between, one that seems to me to focus on the minutiae of relationships, of complexities, of even the structure of the minutiae of complexities. It's almost fussy, and it's most often carried out in the unflattering light of reality -- raw, open, this-is-how-it-is -- as if artists there felt responsible to pry back the façade of perceived British stuffiness and show their neighbors and the rest of the world precisely what vulgarity lies beneath. Kind of like our own Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, except that that Edward Albee play would be a thick industrial-strength shock-absorber spring, metaphorically speaking, and Closer would be more of a Slinky ... or its plural.

You know how, when you're messing around with a Slinky, eventually it gets all tangled in a hideously complex knot that's impossible to unkink? Imagine that you have four Slinkys and they're all knotted that way, and as you try to untangle them simultaneously, they become entangled with each other. Imagine the complexity of that greater knotting, the thin, sharp-edged curves and loops sliding and winding treacherously in on themselves. That's Closer. And its knots are caused by sex.

Well, no, not really. And that's part of the characters' problem, see: They might confuse sex with the cause of those knots themselves.

The characters are two men and two women, all heterosexual, all complex, all portrayed with unerring excellence. Andrea Osborn, Michael Miller, Paul Norton, Kara Bliss -- this stunning quad presents the truth: That these overt sexual desires are tangled up with so many other, less investigated desires that the characters have little more than fleeting clues about what they really want. And Jesus, it's a mess.

And since sex is such a big part of these relationships, and since it -- being physically manifest, after all -- is the most obvious area of desire, it's what is worked in this story. Whether it's one of the men cyber-seducing the other man while masquerading as a woman in an online chatroom, whether it's one of the women asserting in meatspace that, yes, she'd like this man or that to cum in her face, sextalk like something from the pages of Hustler runs through the dialogue like so many patent-pending PleasureBumps on a high-priced condom. If such a thing bothers you, Dear Prudence, then you need to pass on this show. If it doesn't bother you, and if you don't mind raw angst realistically displayed, you shouldn't miss it.

Ann Ciccolella directs the show effectively, shaping the action within a clinically sparse set by Cliff Simon that throws this kinked Slinky of lovers into bold relief. Nothing is played for laughs alone here, but since humor rises often, especially in tense situations, it rises in this story, too; and it is generously attended to. It's also good to see a show where the costuming requires neither a flair for the fantastic nor an attention to period detail but, instead, a sharp awareness of current modes of dress -- and costumer Pebbles Nugent has this awareness in spades.

Removal of clothing often proves helpful in bringing people closer; but that depends, of course, on the true source of the distance. Time itself can figure into the equation, too ... but for this tangled pair of pairs, the four years in which their story writhes is insufficient to bridge their emotions' gap.

"I hate retro, and I hate the future!" rails Paul Norton's Larry near the middle of the show. Well, yes: Closer is all about the present. The present, tense.

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Patrick Marber, Zachary Scott Theatre Center, Ann Ciccolella, Andrea Osborn, Michael Miller, Paul Norton, Kara Bliss, Cliff Simon, Pebbles Nugent

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