Patrick Marber's Closer is a rare thing a good play with lots of dirty talk. There are even shouting matches about sexual positions and human effluvia. There's partial nudity. And there's lots of unhappiness among the four main characters.
A success in Britain, a hot ticket on Broadway and a well-received movie by Mike Nichols, this is Closer's first Detroit production. Produced by the Breathe Art Theatre Project, it opened in Windsor's Capitol Theatre and has settled into 1515 Broadway for a stateside run.
The central themes we are all strangers to one another, we go to the theater as voyeurs, and most of us are obsessed by sex are worked out with four thirtysomething characters. They are Dan (Kevin Young), an obituary writer; Alice (Katie Galazka), a stripper; Larry (Joel Mitchell), a dermatologist; and Anna (Danielle Nicole Boissonneault), a celebrity photographer. The dozen or so scenes take place in London over several years.
The serpentine plot features two strangers Alice and Dan meeting on the street, where she has been hit by a taxi. We see them in the hospital waiting room where Dan has taken her for treatment. Alice then seduces him against his better judgment.
In the next scene, Dan has given up his job and written a novel. He meets and is smitten by Anna, who's photographing him for the book's cover.
Anna and Dan become a couple. Then Dan's prank on an Internet sex site backfires his postings in the guise of a woman seduce Larry. The two set up a meeting at an aquarium where Anna is waiting. Soon Larry and Anna pair up, and so it goes.
The couples couple, uncouple and re-couple with only a homosexual liaison remaining unexplored. Mostly the men roil about their capacity as lovers; their instincts tell them they can't hold onto the women and so desert them. All rave about love, but there isn't one moment when they seem connected by anything but mouths and organs. Closer, as in propinquity, equals desperation.
But there are two searing hard-to-forget scenes: Larry interrogates Anna the two are, by this time, married about her sexual relationship with Dan, and it's painfully free with descriptive words that sting and hurt.
In the other, Larry tracks down Alice who is working in a sex club. In a confined booth, she seduces while he alternately rages and pleads, throwing money at her like missiles of anger.
Dan is a compulsive love addict, never satisfied; Kevin Young plays him with manic energy and a complete lack of self-awareness. If Dan saw himself, his self-loathing would be monumental. It's a good performance, particularly as a follow-up to his star turn as Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch at 1515 Broadway last season.
Katie Galazka, who played Hedwig's sidekick, takes on the role of Alice, a combination of femme fatale and naïf. On opening night, her performance was complex but not fully inhabited, as if Galazka wasn't fully committed to her character's ruthlessness.
As Larry, Joel Mitchell, who gave one of last season's best performances in Zeitgeist's The Architect and the Emperor of Assyria is effective, though miscast. Though he delivers lines with finesse, Marber wrote the pivotal scenes for Larry to be played by a handsome man whose behavior is against type.
Finally, there is Danielle Nicole Boissonneault as Anna in a performance that was inert on opening night. We understand that she's depressed, that she captures strangers with her camera and hangs them on the museum wall but is really out of touch with them. Boissonneault walks through the play as her character walks through life, but in order to make the plot spin, she must engage with the audience and the other actors.
Demetri Vacratis directed the show's text at a glacial pace, sometimes missing subtext that, like salt in a stew, enhances the flavor. As to the physical production, the lighting by Valerie Bonasso is adequate; no costume designer is listed, either out of shame for the dreadful look of the clothes or because the actors chose their own.
Marber's play is an incisive and cynical portrayal of partnering in the urban jungle; this production gives some wham, sock and splat but not nearly as much as it could have.
Shows at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, matinees at 2 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 14. General admission $20 ($12 with student ID). At 1515 Broadway, Detroit. Call 313-965-1515 for reservations.
Michael Margolin writes about the performing arts for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org