When the theater house lights dim and Nine Inch Nails comes pounding over the sound system blaring “I wanna f*** you,” you instantly know two things:
One, this isn’t going to be a light romantic comedy, and two, now’s the time to leave if you’re offended by frank plays about sex.
Closer, the raw, funny, oftentimes crude and always fascinating play about modern-day sex and love, is even more intense in the small space of California Stage, the 30-seat theater where Synergy Stage is producing Patrick Marber’s provocative piece.
Marber is a relatively young playwright—he had just turned 30 when he wrote this piece, an examination of the coupling, uncoupling and re-coupling of four Londoners in the early 1990s, and it has that youthful voice of brash cynicism.
In his notes, Marber comments that he wrote this sexual piece because, “I hadn’t seen anything that put my generation’s romantic concerns in any kind of perspective. Closer is a play about sexual politics. It’s about people who have no fundamental satisfaction in their lives and lump all their emotional lives in their lover’s lives, and in their love lives, they treat each other desperately and at times very selfishly.”
Basically, it’s a look at those who want their lust and love immediately, and confuse the two constantly. Each relationship starts with a cute meet—if cute includes loin-lunging lust and the desperate clutch at instant intimacy. Think Sex and the City, though the characters here are more shallow and less likable. You have a young accident victim, Alice (Mégan Biolchini), who is rescued and ravished by glib obit writer Dan (Gillen Morrison), who eventually meets and mates with photographer Anna (Christine Nicholson), who eventually beds and weds dermatologist Larry (Blair Leatherwood).
None of these on-the-spot attractions and attachments last, so new loves are pursued and musical beds ensue. It’s sexual politics and, in the end, it shows that none of these people has the capacity for emotional intimacy, though all protest that’s all they’re looking for while pursuing physical intimacies.
The wit is fast and furious, the dialogue sharp and the verbal jousting impeccable—a modern, rather twisted, Noel Coward-esque play directed with first-rate talent by Peter Mohrmann, who keeps all the balls flying during layered dialogue, interspersed scenes and a classic silent chat-room scene played out on a large screen, while pulling out near-perfect performances by his cast. Biolchini shows vulnerability and naiveté under her hardened exterior; Morrison has the Teflon charmer down pat; Nicholson lets us peak at her road-weary humanity under her artsy demeanor; and Leatherwood is most impressive as the most normal on the surface while the most damaged inside.
In addition, DJ Mohrmann has mix-mastered a perfect soundtrack of appropriate tunes with three Nine Inch Nails songs, along with Chemical Brothers, David Bowie, David Byrne, Peter Gabriel, Jamiroquai and Madonna. A final word of warning: this isn’t for everyone—explicit material and language.