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Stage Review: Dark 'Closer' cuts deep

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

By Christopher Rawson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Getting there feels like something out of "Being John Malkovich" or po-mo guerrilla theater -- ascending to the mezzanine level of the parking garage across from Heinz Hall to discover a gritty space being colonized by (who else?) Quantum Theatre.

Laurie Klatscher and John Shepard in the Quantum Theater production of "Closer." (Bryan Miller, Quantum Theater)

This is where Quantum's Karla Boos has elected to stage "Closer," Patrick Marber's smart, titillating, ultimately clinical dramatization of sexual insecurity. Its mood and language are well served by these dingy surroundings, and its audience has the added frisson of slipping out of the Cultural District crowds and climbing up against the downward flow of puzzled pre-Heinz/O'Reilly parkers to find its unlikely goal.

As so often with Quantum's spaces, that's not a bad metaphor for "Closer" itself. Starting out like a comedy of infidelity, it turns against the grain. What felt like fun goes deeper and darker. So when you emerge, descending against the upward flow, the panorama of love and need on the streets seems darker than it did before.

There are two couples in "Closer" -- or rather, two men and two women, which makes how many potential couples? Six? Marber contents himself with four, never dealing overtly with the homosexual variants. But the play's most talked-about scene is a gamy sexual encounter between the two men in an Internet chat room, one posing as a woman. In all the later pairing and re-pairing, they hardly meet until the very end, when that early scene may return to mind.

 
 

'Closer'


Where: Quantum Theatre at Jackman Building, Sixth & Penn Ave., Mezzanine Level, Downtown.
When:Through Nov. 23; Wed - Fri. 8 p.m.; Sat. 5:30 and 9 p.m.; Sun. 8 p.m.


Tickets:$15-$20; 412-394-3353.

   
 
 

The play takes place in London in a dozen scenes over more than four years. To start, Alice Ayres, about 20, meets Dan Wolfe, 35; the older couple is Anna and Larry. Alice is a waif, waitress and stripper, but the others are writer, photographer and doctor. The sexual roundabout begins, including a verbally frank scene in a sex club.

"Ayres" and "Wolfe" are suggestive -- we never do get to know Alice, and Dan is clearly a wolf of a hapless kind. Every detail has metaphoric weight: Dan writes obits in a Fates-like department of three; a real meat market suggests sex; art exhibits comment obliquely on these tangled lives. Even the set, a series of slick, quickly movable panels, gradually reveals the grungy reality beyond.

Marber is a cutting wordsmith of aphoristic insights. But Americans may miss the political dimension, such as how Larry's move from hospital to private practice betrays his class and ideals.

In fact, John Shepard plays Larry without working-class accent, or much English accent at all. Otherwise, he's oddly naive and hard to fathom. Laurie Klatscher's Anna is more acted on than acting, and Tom Schaller's Dan is more puppy dog than wolf.

Although solid actors, they are all, I think, too nice, except perhaps for Erika Cuenca, whose Alice is sharp and mysterious. This is a dark and wonderful play, but Boos directs it to be less savage than it was in New York. It moves slowly, as if afraid to lose the audience, and the characters are sad, never as repellent as they can be. Maybe Boos is right, but this "Closer" doesn't get as far under the skin as it could.


Drama Critic Christopher Rawson can be reached at 412-263-1666 or crawson-@post-gazette.com .

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