by Patrick Marber
Directed by Darrell Glasgow
Florida State University/Asolo Conservatory
FSU Center for the Performing Arts, Cook Theatre
3333 N. Tamiami Tr., Sarasota, 941-351-8000
Asolo Extras Series, Sept. 23 & 25, 2011

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker

Sitting on stage in the round, with the only prop being a bench centered diagonally in the square playing area, we're at four people's meetings, interchanges, and interactions back and forth over four and a half years. For starters, Dan, obituary writer and aspiring novelist, sees Alice hit by a cab. Dan takes this gamin  recently rejected by a lover but about to become his, to a hospital. There Larry, a dermatologist, notices her (but the glance is only, ahem, skin deep). A year later, Larry's attracted to photographer Anna, separated from her husband. When she takes Dan's photos for p.r. for the book he'll publish based on Alice's sex-centered life, he comes on to Anna. Despite rejecting him, she has to insist on it again when Alice confronts her. From here on, there is constant sexual partnership changing. The four lie to, mistrust, and physically and psychologically hurt each other in pairs or, more usually and strongly, individually.

Though director Darrell Glasgow often has the characters all but brush up against us, due to their mutually intense concentration we witness them as if at a peep show. One is actually simulated during a scene in which Alice has returned to in-private stripping before a degrading Larry. Perhaps most sexually explicit is an early internet porno encounter between Dan and Larry, when Dan pretending to be Anna leads Larry on. Yet it is brilliantly accomplished by language. And descriptive language (though its toughest imagery is drawn from contemporary song) is all important when Larry confronts Anna about why and how she prefers sex with Dan. Playwright Patrick Marber programs the many comings, meetings, and leavings astutely, even to a full circle end. His themes include truth as a necessity or victim in relationships, physical hurts and stripping as a parallel to psychological ones, the impossibility of intimacy in baring of bodies rather than minds and souls, issues of identities, attention to death even within life. With humor, melodrama, mystery, he proves to be, literally, terribly clever.

If there is anything happy about Asolo Extra's production, it's the performances. Despite Dan's shilly-shallying and infidelities, Christopher Williams makes him likeable or at least understandable as one whom Alice could love so much. Jacob Cooper is the Larry we love to hate, so violent and selfish. He stays in character throughout, as do his intense gaze and British accent. Pretty, lithe Kelly Campbell evokes pity and never seems self-conscious, even in deprecating positions. Though she has gorgeous long, curly black hair, it needs better control, as it too easily falls forward to obscure what she says. In the least showy role, Brittany Proia acquits herself well as Anna, whose real feelings we can never quite pin down. Her measured delivery lets us understand her every word.

Jake Staley is responsible for the mostly glaring light and minimal sound. With a 15 minute intermission, the production clocks in at just short of two hours.

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