(l to R) Alana Hawley, Ryan Luhning, Allison Lynch and Curt McKinstry. PHOTO CREDIT: Trudie Lee
March 21 – April 5, 2014
Studio at Vertigo Theatre
On the benefits of honesty, Mark Twain famously said that if you speak the truth, you don’t have to remember anything. But had Twain been able to see Patrick Marber’s play, Closer, he may have revised his thinking to add that telling the truth can also come back to bite you. And shock you in the process. Marber’s 1997 play which won the English playwright London’s most prestigious awards including the Critics’ Circle, the Evening Standard, and the Olivier, is marketed as the expletive-ridden, ribald story of four intertwined characters and their sexual indiscretions. But while the play is rife with words you still can’t say in polite company, it isn’t the language or even the promiscuity that makes Closer a scandalous type of story-telling. Rather, it’s the frankness with which the characters discuss their bad behaviour and true adulterous desires that makes the script worth noting. Add to this Kevin McKendrick’s brand of elegantly economic direction and you have a production worth noting. At least parts of it.
Dan (Curt McKinstry) is a wannabe novelist who works as an obituary writer at a local paper. He meets a beautiful young stripper, Alice (Allison Lynch) when she is hit by a car and he takes her to the hospital to bandage her leg. That act of kindness (and a crustless sandwich) is all Alice needs to fall head over heels in love with Dan. Initially Dan returns her affection. He leaves his girlfriend and is so enchanted with Alice that she inspires him to write a novel based on her life. But eventually it becomes clear that while he fancies Alice, love is not something he feels for her. Love comes to Dan when he meets Anna (Alana Hawley), a photographer hired to take his head shot for the jacket of his novel. Instantly attracted to Anna’s maturity and confidence, Dan hits on her unsuccessfully but lays the seeds for a fire that will grow between them. However, inadvertently through an extremely funny and wonderfully staged cybersex prank, Dan introduces Anna to Larry (Ryan Luhning) a dermatologist who also becomes besotted with Anna and the two marry. Despite the marriage, Dan can’t let go of Anna, Anna is still bewitched by Dan and Alice and Larry are the poor saps who watch the destruction of their relationships and take their own brand of sexual and emotional revenge.
In Marber’s script, very little of this wanting and having another goes unspoken. It’s as if the characters have some kind of mental disorder that renders them unable to lie or even soften the blow. So an exchange between characters typically goes like this:
Larry: I slept with someone in New York. A whore. I’m sorry. Please don’t leave me.
Larry: For sex. I wanted sex. I used a condom.
Anna: Was it good?
But while Marber’s characters demand and give honesty freely, it seems that not a one of them can take it with neutrality or be truthful about what they really want to know or hear. Watching each one of them blurt out these pivotal/hurtful truths and in turn be hurt themselves, is certainly interesting and even shocking for a time. However with two acts spanning three years of this kind of behaviour, the play becomes less zesty in a moment-by –moment way and begins to feel like a wash-rinse-repeat type of storytelling.
Still, supported by Cimmeron Meyer’s minimalist, stark white set design with mercifully restrained use of video projection, the play certainly has its outstanding moments. The aforementioned online sex prank is pretty much worth a ticket as are a number of exchanges between characters including Larry and Anna’s divorce signing and Anna and Alice’s discussion of male behaviour. “The dog loves the owner and the owner loves the dog for doing so,” says Larry bitterly to Anna. “We arrive with our baggage and they are fine with it for a while. They are baggage handlers,” says Anna to Alice. These may be truths blurted out, but at least here Marber is trying to comment on something more substantive than who wants to jump into bed with whom, next.
Also of issue with the production is the uneven casting/character development. Alice and Larry are the fuller-drawn characters and both Lynch and Luhning give fantastic all-in performances as the cuckolded partners capable of inflicting damage of their own. Without a doubt, it’s the scenes featuring only these two where the real heat and discomfort of the plot gets turned up. Conversely, Dan, the man both women are supposed to be gaga over is written as a whiny wet blanket without one ounce of sexual appeal. Faced with a problematic character, McKinstry does little to bring much-needed charisma to Dan which results in a forgettable performance. Coupled with Costume Designer Rebecca Toon’s decision to dress him in old man brown corduroy-looking pant and jacket, I can’t imagine anyone in the audience could understand his appeal to the ladies. Similarly under-drawn is Anna with her lacklustre personality and zero sexual energy. Here Hawley seems unsure how to play her. Uptight and cool one minute, looser and almost girly by the end. Toon again seems to have missed the chance to make us see why Anna is so universally desired. Clad in mumsy clothes (nude stockings with granny wedges) and her hair in an old-fashioned bun, Hawley’s Anna is about as appealing as a dry piece of toast.
In the end, Closer, is more than just shock theatre about people behaving badly. It’s about how even in the purest truths we tell; there are still elements of deceptions when it comes to romantic love. To others or to ourselves. To riff on Oscar Wilde’s belief that “the truth is never pure and rarely simple”, this production of Closer is never perfect but occasionally excellent.
For sensitive ears/tastes – Don’t….just don’t. There isn’t enough of an important take away here for you to spend 2 hours offended by language and plot. SKIP IT
For occasional theatre-goers – The jumping around from one year to the next and pivotal point scenes filling in for comprehensive storyline might feel too skittish to you. Add to that four totally unsympathetic characters behaving deplorably and there isn’t much for you to hang your hat on here. However the scandalous nature of the story is certainly not boring and that might be a change you welcome. MAYBE SEE IT
For theatre junkies – McKendrick’s direction is as always a joy to watch even if half of his cast feels lost or miscast. While this type of staccato, shock-type narrative might not be new to you, it’s intriguing to note that a 17-year-old play still has the power to shake us awake in moments. Also of note is the decision to set the play not in London, but in Vancouver, ridding the cast from having the attempt accents of any kind. It’s a smart move in a production that had enough smart moves to warrant some attention. MAYBE SEE IT
So who should we believe? From another reviewer, and one with many years experience..Louis Hobson from the Calgary Sun…(and Please don’t give me the old “we all have our own opinions and each is valid…” etc etc like you always do. You are mean spirited and obviously a wish-I-could-been-an-actor-but-never-had-the-talent-so-I’ll-be-a reviewer. Sad really.
“Everything about this production is first class and that includes Cimmeron Meyer’s set, lighting and excellent video designs, Rebecca Toon’s costumes and Peter Moller’s sound design.
McKendrick makes exceptional use of his technical support and the way he choreographs the set changes is hypnotic.
Vertigo Studio Theatre until April 5
Every opinion is as valid as the next. There is no such thing as a wrong opinion. (Kevin McKendrick)
I wish my Grade 13 English teacher had subscribed to that philosophy Kevin.
This is the first play in my 38 years in Calgary that was so good I’m seriously considering seeing it again. And I normally do agree with you Jessica!
Hey, if we agreed with each other all the time, the world would be a very dull place indeed! Glad you enjoyed the show and thanks for commenting.
I saw the show on opening night, have to say the review is spot on. The show is worth seeing, it has some great moments and it will keep you engaged, but the script drags on a little too long without really coming to a conclusion (very realistic!) and I agree that Dan and Anna were not portrayed as particularly sexy, which is strange in a play primarily about sex. What Jessica missed is that might be a conscious decision on the part of the director, taking the glamour out of what really is an ugly story.