nytheatre.com review by Nat Cassidy
December 12, 2009
I went into Four Dreamers Theatre Company's production of Patrick Marber's Closer eagerly. Four Dreamers is a new company—this marks their inaugural production—and the sense I got from their promotional materials, as well as the general air in the lobby of the Gene Frankel Theatre, was that this is a young, self-starting and -sufficient group, put together by a team of artists who, rather than waiting for whatever opportunities to come to them, decided to take control and produce theatre as it subscribes to their particular vision (in this case, the company declares a mission statement to focus on shows "centered on themes of love and loss"). I always find that kind of ethos very admirable, and it's the bedrock for a viable theatrical community.
It is with regret, then, that I say I cannot recommend this revival of Closer. For a group purporting to wish to delve into the thickets of romantic entanglements, this production is distressingly flat and naive. I watched this production with a line from the play ringing in my ears: "What do you have to do to get a bit of intimacy round here?"
The cast is uniformly superficial in their performances. Indeed, there seems to be practically not a single moment of nuance onstage: the regular, almost recited quality of every line delivery makes each character seem to have nothing more to say than what they're saying at the moment—hardly the right quality for a script so steeped in relational intrigue and deception. Couple that with an almost flagrant avoidance of any sort of British dialect on every actor's part (the script—which this production makes no attempt to alter or adapt to suit its own palpable Americanness—is set in London, with a wealth of references and British slang that is thus rendered jarring and alien) and you get an evening that feels more like a lesser college production than a full-blooded revival.
To director Eric Tucker's credit, the staging is mostly quite good, and Laura Taber Bacon's scenic design makes brilliant use of just a few chairs and curtains. However, Tucker has also directed his actors to rattle off their dialogue with metronomic regularity, as if that'll take the place of true understanding of what the characters are saying, giving it some approximation of witty banter but with none of the emotional underpinning to support it. Granted, it keeps the evening from ever feeling over-long, but the play would have been much better served with vocal and rhythmic dynamics, moments of silence, moments of tension, moments of connection, etc.
There was also a bizarre staging convention that occurred more than once in which characters, though in a public place, had no qualms (or at least, played no moment of decision) to simply launch into personal information as loudly and clearly as you could wish, standing across the entire width of the stage from the person to whom they're speaking. The aggregation of choices like that prevented the production from ever feeling real. In fact, for a production entitled Closer, it served to further alienate the audience from believing anything that was happening onstage.
Throughout the evening, Bacon's able and clever scenery makes use of several curtains, which are pulled and drawn to reveal new depths of the playing space (indeed, serving as both the costumer and set designer, Bacon is the star of the evening). It's a shame that we never get the same sense of discovery with the characters or with the script itself—there are no new levels discovered, no curtains pulled away.
Marber's play is an already-established classic in the modern theatrical canon. Twelve years on, his dialogue is still fresh and engaging, and his disturbing and frank dissection of heterosexual relationships still lands as a cautionary tale worth regarding. My companion and I both left this production with, at the very least, an affirmed appreciation of what Marber is attempting to do. And, despite my misgivings with this revival, my initial opinion of Four Dreamers as a whole remains unchanged—I applaud their resolve and audacity to mount this production in the first place, and I hope they carry the lessons learned with their first show out of the gate over to their next one.