With the busy schedules of the major theatres, I am too rarely able to venture out to one of Seattle's many smaller theatres, where the possibility always exists of finding first-rate work in an intimate atmosphere. The ReAct Theatre production of "Closer", by Patrick Marber may have modest production values (and ticket prices), but there is no scrimping in terms of the quality of the acting, the intelligence of the directing, or the respect paid to the material. This is an adult drama, and one where that doesn't designate naughty language, peeks of skin or any other sort of adolescent titillation, but the raw pain of real consequences from choices made consciously, if not very wisely. It is about the way in which our needs and illusions can lead us toward our desires, and how our desires can often lead us toward deception and destruction. The action may concern illicit affairs and various sexual liaisons, but the real abyss here is always about the individual and him or herself. The awful path of this play is a journey through what we think we want others to be for us, to an arrival at who we are alone. The irony is that as the play does, in fact, bring everyone in it "Closer", that closeness only distinguishes how separate we remain.
The bare-fisted writing has a startling amount of humor, witty and urbane, at times crude and even vulgar. It is equally direct in its description of the brutality we are capable of with those who are most important to us, and on whom we depend far more than we might admit. The two men and two women involved in this unflinching portrait pay a terrible price for the loves they win and lose, and reveal so much of themselves to us by the choices they make that we share an intimacy with them greater than they share with each other. It's entertaining but never pleasant, shocking but entirely familiar, cruel and human, repulsive and sympathetic. The audience isn't always sure where to laugh, and quite often an isolated reaction seems to expose that individual in the reflected intensity of the drama, as if we are as exposed by the responses we display as the characters themselves.
This beautifully balanced and accomplished ensemble keeps everything proportionate and recognizable. Angela DiMarco makes Alice just the sort of woman every man has known at least once, that mystery that is never quite solved, that temptation never quite attainable, never really within arms-reach, even when within your arms. She is a tease and a child, tough and vulnerable, a free-spirit and desperately dependent. That Dan, played with sensitivity and power by Scott Plusquellec, is changed in every possible way by his encounters with her seems as inevitable as it is disastrous. Gordon Hendrickson plays a physician with a different sort of hunger, the sort that simply wants to feel he has a real place at the table, some consequence to his existence greater than his ability to perform a task. Shawn Yates has exceptional range, and uses it to show us a woman who is fully engaged in her own life and her own choices, and as a result bears experience with strength and a ferocious integrity, even when she is most compromised. The balances and collisions of these four individuals and their disparate intentions give the play both variety and coherence. Director David Hsieh has a firm grasp on every moment of the action, and nothing ever wanders or seems inconsequential. This is not an easy or pleasant experience, but it is filled with integrity and artistry and difficult truth.
"Closer" is not exactly a light desert to end a pleasant evening. It's rather more like an unexpected shot of horseradish that goes straight to the sinus, tears the eyes, and dominates the palate so that everything else seems more than a bit bland. This is terrific writing, commendable acting and admirable directing. For me, it was one of those reminders of how very often small theatres can contain some very big theatre.
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