Regional Reviews: St. Louis
The informal cross-pollinations of its two couples on stage, changing partners unexpectedly (even as often as they do), and the increasing depths to which each romantic partner feels compelled to sink, are informed by the intimate betrayals, the rivalries, and by the modern, sometimes caustic soft-porn language they slip into now and then.
Tom Martin directs, keeping the action thoughtful and the emotions complex, in spite of the lascivious subject matter, in Patrick Marber's drama from 1997. It seems more modern, or maybe I'm just 20 years behind the times (as usual).
The real star of the show is in the writing, and the way Mr. Marber's scene construction varies and draws us back to the romantic messes we may make throughout life. But a close second, in this production, is Larissa White as Alice: a strip club dancer who's become an expert at sexual intimacy as a source of strength and wisdom.
She is "involved," off and on, with the play's two male characters, Dan (Brock Russell) and Larry (Andrew Michael Neiman), and also in an off-and-on competition for the men, against Anna (Gabrielle Greer). Anna begins the play as a thoughtful photographic artist, but is exposed as just as much of a sex-driven mammal as the rest near the end. Thematically, her sexual "downfall" is not the song we leave 'humming the tune of,' but it is part of a whole cycle of desire and debasement that goes all the way back to Medea and Jason, or Sampson and Delilah.
In fact, it's better we don't have to depend on the humiliation of Anna as the big payoff in this production. If we did it might just (ultimately) be a porn-dialog translation of My Fair Lady. Instead, thanks to Ms. White's performance as the debauched but pixie-ish dancer, Closer inspires deep introspection, though the dialog itself doesn't give her all the elbowroom she gets on stage here. Hers is a performance that exists at least 50% between the lines.
Mr. Russell's performance has excellent layersDan seems one thing at first, and then another, and on and on, provoking all kinds of emotions from the audience. As portrayed by Mr. Neiman, Larry, a London dermatologist, seems to free himself through sex (in act one) to become a very different person in act two. Though he hits lower lows and higher highs, his is a much more linear progression than Dan's, which is more like a haunted hall of mirrors.
The film version from 2004 boasted a big name cast, including Natalie Portman and Julia Roberts. Here it is the power of live theater and the surprises of drama that give this production its punch.
There's also surprisingly nice (and artistically inspired) technical work here, involving small, vaguely vaudevillian "title cards" of scenic photos blown up and used as great images behind the actors, projecting both the relevant settings and an intentional falsity against the stage backdrop, as conceived by director Martin and executed by lighting designer Mark Wilson. These settings happen to be the perfect political metaphor for 2017: blown all out of proportion, creating a plainly false image, and thin as the skin of a bubble.
And then there are the startling flashes of faces that are occasionally superimposed on those setting pictures, taken by photographer Justin Foizey, flickering facial images that point to an almost hellish, thrumming introspection within the characters of Alice and Dan, who cause all the trouble. And that persistent self-involvement is another perfect political metaphor for 2017.
But perhaps most importantly, in the script and in the direction, the levels and layers of intimacy are all expertly developed.
Through January 22, 2017, at the .ZACK Theatre, a block east of Compton Ave. on Locust (a block north of Olive/Lindell). For more information visit Theatre Lab's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TheatreLabSTL.
* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association
The Artistic Staff