Group: St. Louis Actors’ Studio
Venue: Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle
Dates: February 17, 18, 19, 20, 24, 25, 26, 27
Tickets: $20-$25; contact 1-800-982-2787 or www.ticketmaster.com
Story: Dan, a London newspaper obituary journalist, takes Alice to the hospital after witnessing an accident involving her. He soon learns that the attractive young woman is a stripper and also quite flirtatious. When the attending physician, Larry, seems to grope Alice while examining her, it piques Dan’s desire to the point that he abandons his girlfriend and begins a relationship with Alice.
Later, Dan is being photographed for the bio sketch on the back cover of his first novel. He flirts with Anna, the photographer, who is separated from her husband, and eventually begins an affair with her. He also happens across Larry in an internet chat room, engages in coarse sexual language with him and arranges a meeting for Larry with ‘Anna’ at the London Aquarium. When Larry and the real Anna, who coincidentally is there, realizes he’s been victimized they eventually start their own affair. Over the course of six years Dan, Alice, Anna and Larry move back and forth in their sexual liaisons while all searching diligently for the elusive ‘truth’ in their relationships that they believe will bring them ‘closer.’
Highlights: This two-act drama by Patrick Marber won the Olivier Award in 1998 for Best Play. It’s actually considered a comedy, although there is very little humor in its decadent situations. However, Marber does have a way with dialogue that keeps the plot of this sudsy contemporary fable moving forward. Most importantly, director Wayne Salomon elicits a quartet of compelling performances by his players, especially Meghan Maguire as Anna, in the St. Louis Actors’ Studio presentation.
Maguire, who has the only slightly sympathetic character among this sordid quartet, is able to convey an emotion as effectively with a forlorn smile or a vacant stare as with more flamboyant gestures. She fills Anna with sadness and remorse as well as impromptu passion in reactions as well as dialogue. It’s a carefully calibrated performance that elevates the production.
Other Info: Salomon’s direction is smooth and focused throughout, capturing the emotional and moral bankruptcy of Marber’s characters in a series of scenes that play out on the spartan, antiseptic set designed by Patrick Huber. That white, boxed environment serves as a photo studio as well as utilizing concealed compartments that contain minimal props provided by James Slover that can be a doctor’s office, an art gallery or even a bench at the aquarium on the bare lower level.
Huber also provides the stark lighting to illustrate this cautionary tale, while Bonnie Kruger’s costumes accentuate Alice’s wild side with short skirts and high-heeled boots as well as the more mundane wardrobes of the men. Most impressively, Robin Weatherall’s sound design is filled with poignant classical melodies in the interludes between the various scenes, which are filled with the more raucous and empty cacophony of the characters’ lives.
John Pierson and Christopher Lawyer are each effective as a pair of contemporary blokes who flail about seeking sexual satisfaction while failing to understand how their self-centered lives preclude any real understanding of love. They seem to compete in a squalid, downward spiral that offers little long-term hope. Rachel Fenton completes the cast with a steady portrayal of the troubled Alice, who may not be all that she appears, both emotionally and actually.
“Closer” suffers at time from overwriting, as Marber tries to cram too many ‘thoughtful’ phrases into his story. More problematically, there’s very little to admire in any of the characters and, thus, little room for empathy or sympathy for their plights. What can be admired, though, is the stylish and intelligent interpretation offered by Salomon and his diligent performers.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.