By Laura Mortkowitz
With a simple greeting of “Hello, stranger,” the scene is set for Closer.
This twisted, dark play examines just four characters — Dan, Alice, Larry and Anna — whose lives are irrevocably intertwined by chance meetings that turn into passionate affairs. But no matter how many years pass and no matter how the relationships develop and change, not one of them truly gets to know the others.
The play opens with Dan (senior Danny Lane) and Alice (sophomore Kim Vogel), who meet when she is injured by an oncoming car. Dan is a charming but slightly flustered obituary writer who finds himself captivated by Alice’s straightforward and seductive attitude. The two “strangers” wind up together by the second scene.
In the next scene, the audience is introduced to Anna (sophomore Faye Rex), a photographer, assigned to take pictures of Dan, who has published his first book. Although Dan is heavily involved with Alice, he falls for Anna. But it’s through the mechanisms of a bored Dan that Anna eventually meets a romantic interest of her own, a dermatologist named Larry (senior Eddie Egan). Although Larry thoroughly embarrasses himself when he meets Anna, they end up dating.
Closer’s biggest strength is undoubtedly the intense performances. Egan’s portrayal of Larry is passionate, angry and, in some scenes, a little diabolical. He is the most memorable among a cast of sharp-witted and deceptive characters who are all hurt by one another by the end.
Rex’s portrayal of Anna is a wonderful complement to Egan’s. Although Anna is unfaithful, Rex still manages to garner sympathy from the audience, creating a woman devastated by her mistakes. Rex keeps the audience captivated as Anna walks away from the experience learning nothing and getting into another destructive relationship with Dan.
Together, Rex and Egan are explosive. The screaming match that their final fight devolves into halfway through the play is about as close to a real-life breakup as one could get. And although Dan and Alice have a similar heartbreaking fight in the same scene, Larry and Anna dominate the stage. The anger and the betrayal of the scene are almost painful to watch. The raw emotion is unchecked and the most believable part of the play.
The use of a projection screen behind the actors makes a scene more hilarious and allows the audience to become connected to what happens on stage. In a chat room designed for singles, Dan pretends to be a woman named Anna, and what he writes is shown on the screen. This scene between Dan and Larry quickly becomes the funniest part of the play.
The lighting of the play complemented the small performance space and helped to keep a difficult scene interesting and simple. In one scene, Anna meets Dan while they are dating and she recounts her earlier meeting with Larry at the same restaurant. The lights change, indicating a flashback to an earlier time of day, giving the scene a greater impact.
The downside to the plot is that too many years pass within a short two and a half hours of real time. Everything moves confusingly quickly with no time for the characters and the relationships to develop and endear themselves to the audience. For instance, Dan’s character changes radically from his stumbling first scene with Alice to his sudden self-confidence and desire for Anna in the very next scene. In many cases, a whole year will pass in between scenes.
The gaps in time and plot also make the relationships confusing. The pairings change more in the two hours than in the entire series of Dawson’s Creek. However, there are no segues into new relationships as in a television show; they are simply there without explanation in the new scene.
Closer toys with the idea that being in love with someone and getting to know them are not one and the same. While passionate acting carries most of this play, the characters themselves aren’t likable and from the very start, their relationships are doomed, which is simply frustrating to watch. However, with use of humor and wit, the performers were able to hurdle a long, confusing and constantly changing plot to create a daring and dark play.