In the first act of "Closer," a scathing portrait of contemporary romantic relationships, two couples share the stage. Each couple is undergoing a crisis precipitated by a member of the other couple, and the two confrontations unfold simultaneously.
At one ironic moment, both women sit on the bed that occupies center stage, where each one has slept with Dan, one of the men.
The scene vividly portrays the play's constantly changing relationships and the uncertainty and tension that characterize them: love versus sex, lies versus truth, and loyalty versus betrayal.
Wasatch Theatre Company and Process Theatre Company are collaborating in this visceral, intense production of Patrick Marber's play, better known for its film adaptation starring Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Julia Roberts, and Clive Owen.
Dan (Tyson Baker), Alice (Emilie Starr), Anna (Latoya Rhodes), and Larry (Carleton Bluford) are four Londoners who meet, become entangled, separate, and realign over a four-year period. Dan is a journalist who writes obituaries and craves excitement. "Life without risk is death," he tells Alice, a young stripper he rescues from a traffic accident. He "borrows" her life to write a novel just as he appropriates her body as his lover.
Alice has reinvented the details of her life to the point where she has probably forgotten what's real. "Lying is the most fun you can have without taking your clothes off," she says. She desperately wants to be loved but has no staying power.
Anna is a photographer who seems the most stable of the group but vacillates rootlessly between Dan and Larry in a continual search for what she needs. She has one of the play's most interesting speeches about the overwhelming weight of the baggage each partner brings to a relationship.
Larry is a dermatologist who can't seem to penetrate the surface and find stability in a relationship. He feels compelled to tell the truth in any situation no matter what devastating consequence. As these four rotate around each other like errant planets, the dual meanings of the play's title become clear. The four characters crave closeness but have no idea how to achieve it. Instead, they circle and close in, voraciously manipulating one another to satisfy their selfishness.
The strength of the acting performances, especially by the women, carries this production. Starr's Alice is a chameleon, alternating between sexy seductiveness and the playful exuberance of a child. As Anna, Rhodes is conflicted and enigmatic, driven by love to make choices that are not in her best interests. Bluford's Larry is curious and charming one moment, brutal and uncaring the next, intent on controlling situations that can't be controlled. Baker's portrayal is the flattest of the four, but he does convey Dan's mix of callousness and confusion; because he can't trust anyone, he undermines his possibilities for happiness.
Director Tracy Callahan moves the actors smoothly around the Studio Theatre's confined space and shapes and orchestrates emotional moments. Grady McEvoy's sparse set is set off by Danny Dunn's straightforward lighting. Linda Eyring's eclectic, mod costumes and Nicole Finney's music selections provide a London feel, but Nick Ketterer's video projections have an uneven impact, useful sometimes but confusing in others.
"Closer" is strong stuff with equally strong language, and its vision of the duplicity of contemporary relationships is unrelenting, but this production does a nice job of conveying the hollowness at the heart of many alliances.
With intense performances, "Closer" shows the duplicity of contemporary relationships
When • Reviewed on Sept. 12; Continues Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. through Sept. 28
Where • Studio Theatre at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 West Broadway, Salt Lake City.
Running time • Two hours and 15 minutes (with intermission)