This 7 Towers production shows the disconnect between love and sex, and the pitfalls of confusing the two

Looking for love in all the wrong places: David Boss as Larry and Sara Cormier as Alice
Looking for love in all the wrong places: David Boss as Larry and Sara Cormier as Alice (photo by Aaron Black)

Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Rd.
Through Aug. 2
Running time: 2 hr.

We all search for something – long for something not currently present in our lives. Whether it's what we need is irrelevant; it is the want which drives us. In Patrick Marber's Closer, presented by 7 Towers Theatre Company, we are treated to an unforgiving barrage of raw, unchecked, and often misplaced desire – and the calamitous results of not knowing ourselves well enough.

Upon entering the space, one immediately recognizes the simplicity and intimacy achieved by set designer Chris Hejl, who has placed us not in the whole theatre space of the Dougherty Arts Center, but on the stage itself, the audience and players sharing a quaint three-sided thrust. Lighting/projection designer Courtney DeGinder's video screens provide the backdrop, achieving a wonderful versatility throughout the piece with suggestions of various locales rather than cluttering up the space with set-pieces. The remaining stage is bare, filled sparingly only with the props and pieces necessary for each scene (seamlessly transported by the actors) and nothing more. It is the emotional states, or lack thereof, of the characters to which we'll be drawn, and the space appropriately brings us, well, closer to them. (My apologies for that, it was unavoidable.)

Marber's script is sparse and often formulaic, and its characters not incredibly well developed; we are provided with each character's identity, profession, prowess at said profession, and a personal anecdote here and there, and that's about it. This can be problematic in developing an audience connection, but director Amanda Gass conjures an apt vehicle to drive home the point: disconnection. Playwrights don't make mistakes; they simply provide a road map for different interpretations of their ideas, and Gass has her cast tell Marber's story through the unexpected yet ultimately satisfying lens of character collapse. Each of the four characters strives to love and for love, yet the proverbial stakes of the play are heightened through their paradoxical surrender to hormonal conflict and carnal desire. The mistakes we've all made in relationships past are on display in each character, and watching their choices inevitably lead them further from salvation is gleefully cathartic.

Like functional heroin addicts who no longer remember why they need their fix, only that they do, these characters exist on base instinct. Alice, played lovingly by Sara Cormier, is a question mark, an outsider both in age and geographical location. Cormier brings a stunning balance of independence and naivete to the role. Hejl, as Dan, skillfully decomposes throughout, each choice reflecting the last. His is a slow burn, and we believe he genuinely doesn't quite understand what he's done to deserve his outcome. As Larry, a swarthy David Boss wears his fist-shaped, blood-soaked heart on his sleeve, almost reveling in the pain his choices bring. Suzanne Balling endows Anna with a sense of urgency and agency, displaying full ownership of her actions and their consequences. It is acceptable that we never come to fully know these characters outside of their romantic/physical interludes; this is an emotional essay rather than a character study.

7 Towers' production thankfully never derails into sex romp or rom-com. Instead, we're graced with a portrait of the consequences resulting from the disconnect between love and sex. Gass and her team ably show us the pitfalls of confusing the latter for the former, and the turmoil left in the wake of an individual's misguided pursuit of instant gratification. In all, Closer is a purposefully beautiful disaster that will leave audiences feeling exposed and keenly aware of the tightrope that is right and wrong.

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7 Towers Theatre Company, Patrick Marber, Amanda Gass, Sara Cormier, Chris Hejl, David Boss, Suzanne Balling, Courtney DeGinder

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