By Patrick Marber. Directed by Adam Janusz. A Shift Theatre production at the VanCity Culture Lab at the Cultch on Friday, November 9. Continues until November 17
Here are four people you don’t want to get closer to.
Patrick Marber’s 1997 play Closer(Mike Nichols directed the film version in 2004) revolves around the convoluted relationships between two men and two women in present-day London. Dan, a buttoned-down obituary writer, meets the eccentric Alice when he takes her to the emergency room after seeing her get hit by a cab. A year later, the two are shacked up when Dan meets Anna, a photographer. She rebuffs his advances, so he sets her up with a stranger by impersonating her online. The stranger, Larry, turns out to be the doctor who treated Alice in the ER. For the next several years, the four bounce in and out of each other's lives in various romantic (or, more accurately, carnal) combinations.
Marber deliberately disorients by jumping around in time, but he drives home his themes—desire is selfish, true love is elusive, we never really know the people we supposedly love—with the subtlety of a sledgehammer: keywords like truth, coward, and need are repeated often. As I watched these less-than-likable characters toss each other’s hearts around, compulsively repeating the same bad behaviours, then reminisce together about scenes I’d already watched, I wanted to pick them up and bash their heads together.
The emerging artists in Shift Theatre, a new company, are clearly passionate about this play, and that passion both enhances and detracts from this interpretation. Director Adam Janusz fetishizes Marber’s text, opening with a too-long voice-over of key lines and covering scene changes with projections of excerpts from the script, but his pacing doesn’t do it justice. Marber’s dialogue is pithy, loaded with tart rejoinders: “Please don’t hate me.” “Easier than loving you.” It’s meant to clip along, but the actors’ delivery is often reverently slow, compounding the tedium.
The acting is a mixed bag. Alexis Kellum-Creer is a natural and understated Anna, and Lara Rova plays Alice with a seductive combination of confidence and vulnerability. Christian Sloan doesn’t make Larry’s volatile combination of arrogance and insecurity emotionally convincing, though, and Troy Cherkowski is simply miscast in the pivotal role of Dan. Cherkowski has an amiable, goofy sort of charm, but he’s not credible as a self-centred, conveniently clueless exploiter, so his Dan doesn’t ring true.
Janusz’s staging offers some pleasures—at one point, both couples break up in overlapping scenes, with one set of furniture seamlessly functioning as both locations—but too often, the pace lags due to unwieldy scene changes.
I applaud these young artists for their ambition; I just wish they’d picked a more interesting script—or taken a more rigorous approach to this one.