“You didn’t fall in love; you gave into temptation. There’s a moment. There’s always a moment: I can do this, I can give into this, or I can resist temptation,” Alice succinctly describes to Anna in the Patrick Marber play “Closer,” which debuted in 1999. Most will remember it from the 2004 Mike Nichols’ film, starring Clive Owen, Jude Law, Julia Roberts, and Natalie Portman. Nichols’ interpretation left out this snippet of dialogue between the love-torn ladies. It’s unfortunate, because it sums up every character in the show—Dan, Alice, Anna, and Larry—and their willingness to set up heartache and endure its catastrophic emotional aftermath like candy. Simply put: These people are sadists and masochists who wallow in emotional and moral bankruptcy like a new currency. Owning up to their actions and facing the work it takes to choose love, real love, is merely foreign. Sexual desires dictate every move they make to the point of no return.
I will admit: I loathed the film upon its release. My first introduction to these people left me feeling absolutely nothing for them. They lack compassion, empathy, accountability, and integrity. Yet, somehow, knowing it was originally a play (which launched a young Maggie Gyllenhaal, who played Alice, into her acting career), I couldn’t help but think that its dark psychological profiling of the human condition at its rawest, most primal instincts would translate to greater heights live. And it does in Browncoat Pub and Theatre’s debut of the show, a premiere for Wilmington audiences. Still, it’s torture to watch Marber’s characters.
In a nutshell, the plot focuses on two couples, Dan and Alice, a British obits writer and an American wayward stripper, as well as portrait photographer Anna and her dermatologist husband, Larry. Dan meets Alice after watching a cabby hit her on a London street. He accompanies Alice to the hospital, where they encounter a painfully handsome doctor, Larry, who briefly looks at her bloody leg. Alice has a scar in the shape of a question mark on one knee as well; she says she got it from a car accident that left her parents dead. The underpinning of that scar and how it really happened (self-mutilation?) is a nice metaphor in trying to find out who these people are; really, we never know.
Dan meets Anna a year or so after he and Alice have been dating for a photo shoot for his newly released book based on Alice. Dan comes onto the more mature Anna despite his current relationship, and pursues her so heavily, so forthrightly, that it feels like a twisted manhunt at the onset. And his “game” doesn’t necessarily run from being caught either. A love affair among them all begins, each switching partners rather frivolously, and the mental taxation they leave in their wake exhausts viewers to no end.
I do not envy the actors taking on this show. I imagine at the end of each performance, they’re seriously drained from the drama’s complexities and the impassioned people it represents. Last weekend, before the Saturday show opened, Jon Berry was taken to the hospital to be treated for exhaustion because of his travels between acting jobs. Though he missed two nights of opening weekend, he can stand proud from his stellar Friday performance.
This marks the first time seeing Jon Berry take on an in-depth role not based on a musical. His acting and singing chops have been proven in shows like City Stage’s “Tommy” and “The Rocky Horror Show.” Here, on the intimacy of Browncoat’s stage, he literally radiates a professionalism unmatched. Aside from his stunning good looks, at the onslaught of his love affair with Anna (Erin Hunter), he masters a caring and thoughtful lover. Tender moments of a slight touch or wry smile show how any woman can fall for him without fail. So when his sexual perversions become apparent, a different, more aggressive but also desperate man illuminates, presenting the yin and yang that does exist in us all.
What I love about Berry’s personification is his wont to be needed. He frequently begs the characters, even when they’re strangers, to talk to him—pining for trust. It’s as if he’s summonsing any kind of true connection, which completely cultivates the antithesis of the show. His every action—of where he puts his hands to the fleeting sense of urgency to control his emotions—shows how Berry is on a different plane of acting. He also manages a natural chemistry onstage with all of his colleagues, but especially Anna Gamel, who plays the young renegade, Alice.
Gamel has a way of making emotions pop with her eyes. Often they say more than dialogue or movements. Her character is overly intent to understand Dan (Kenneth Rosander) at their first encounter, as seen through doe eyes which showcase an overabundance of desire. It’s very clear she strives to be understood, to be loved, to be cared after, and to be accepted almost to detrimental proportions. When she’s devastated by the lack of response she gets in return—from anyone, may I add—her reserve, to become unfazed and hide behind her sexuality is showcased by a vacant gaze.
Gamel’s character is the center of the plot, the nucleus from which everyone else spawns. Though her mysterious background and emotional well of revenge drives much of the play, her own form of honesty, even if on a slant, somehow remains riveting. She embodies this best during the final breakup scene with Dan. When she says she’s fallen out of love, her eyes, again, go to a different place—not quite in the moment, not quite in the past, just somewhere only she knows, somewhere sacred. It’s the only time we see her retreat a success—to move away from a torturous man she’s allowed in her life.
Kenneth Rosander’s Dan is a blubbering fool. To be fair, Rosander makes being a hot mess an art form. He also is the only one to maintain the British accent in the play, and he doesn’t let it interfere with his character but sincerely add to it. Dan oozes of slime; it cannot be removed unless the entire character were rewritten. Rosander bolsters an obsessive quality needed to play him. Nothing will ever be enough for this man, and Rosander plays to his utter confusion with a clear disheveled persona. Women to him are more like property than humans. Poetic justice comes when he doesn’t even find his own human depth ‘til it’s too late.
Erin Hunter’s Anna carries a heft of pomposity that’s indefinable. I am most perplexed by this character. It’s almost like the role is written to be filler. While Marber writes her as accomplished, artistic, culturally refined, and attractive, she feels vapid. I don’t know if any actress can make her more. Hunter works with Marber’s words to a tee; she manifests constraint in a quite tidy manner. And I feel like that’s who Anna is on the outside: tidy. She may seem to have it all but she manages to sabotage it. She’s also very even keeled about it all, without owning up to it, ever. Even in her confession to Dan for sleeping with an ex-lover, she seems removed—as mundane as ordering coffee. I
The set design of “Closer” is a marvel, even in its simplicity. Kudos to the art work done by local Addie Wuensch and to scenic artist Susan Kranyik for giving the art gallery set a minimalistic yet refined feel. The marble effect is a nice touch. Director Aaron Willings—who’s known for his tech-savvy work behind the scenes for theatre companies all over town—also does well with lighting and sound design. More so, he has led a cast to dive headfirst into the darker corners of human nature many of us are very afraid to go. This show is explicit in sexual content and dialogue. But, really, its psychical promiscuity will be the most impacting on viewers.
Aug. 15th-17th, 22nd-24th, 8 p.m., Sundays, 5 p.m.
Browncoat Pub and Theatre
111 Grace Street • Tickets: $10-$15