Mad about her … and her, too
Sacramento, CA 95815
Love is messy. Desire is even messier. And when love and desire get tangled up with obsession and power, look out.
Big Idea Theatre, which has of late been enjoying a renaissance of good productions for grown-ups, pulls out all the stops in this emotionally intense, intellectually stimulating examination of the dynamics of desire. Ostensibly, Closer has a lot of sex, but the real subject matter goes deeper.
Dan meets Alice when his taxi runs into her on the Blackfriars Bridge in London. Alice has a scrape on her leg and Dan escorts her to trauma (uh, ER, for those who speak American English). Love blossoms. Her life on the edge (she’s a stripper) provides the subject matter for Dan to leave behind his work as an obituary writer and strike out as a novelist.
But then he’s taken with Anna, the photographer who does his portrait for the book jacket. And before long, he’s obsessed—and inadvertently setting her up with Larry, a doctor that Dan met online while he was pretending to be Anna. More infidelities follow, hearts are broken, and the difference between desire, love and dominance games is played out in full.
Yes, it’s that complicated. But an expert staging—and all credit to director Katie Chapman for the fantastic pacing—keeps the audience from becoming more confused than the characters. Some scenes, such as the online exchange between Dan (pretending to be Anna) and Larry, or the scene in which Alice strips for Larry at the club where she works, are both outrageously funny and horrifically brutal. These men are certainly piggish, but they’re also vulnerably human. What’s more, the power the women exert is very tightly linked to their desirability as sexual objects by the men.
As Alice, Jessica Berkey projects honesty and youth; her inability to compete with Anna is baffling. Michael Claudio plays Dan as self-obsessed and conquest-driven; his vulnerability develops too slowly to save any of his relationships. Brian Harrower’s Larry comes across as a guy who really wants to be nice, but he’s been pushed to his limits by the circumstances. Beth Edwards, as Anna, keeps trying to find a moral center while behaving in the most immoral ways. Edwards portrays Anna as disappointed in both the men, but even more in herself; her repeated attempts to befriend Alice are easily read as attempts to expiate her own guilt.
The point here is that, however the characters might seek to draw closer to each other, they only succeed in pushing people away from selves that none of them like very well. These are not necessarily nice people, but they certainly are interesting.
And perhaps one of the most interesting points, strengthened by the way that Claudio and Harrower interact, is that the most basic relationship in this play is between Dan and Larry. They are locked in competition, a power struggle fought with the bodies of the women who stumble into their lives. More than anything—even the love of the women they claim to love—they want to “beat” the other man, to screw him up by having sex with the women he wants.
It’s primal and primeval, a side of human behavior we’d like to pretend doesn’t exist. But in Closer, it’s all too real for us to ignore.