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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A HARSH BERKELEY REPERTORY’S
THEATRE PRODUCTION
OF PATRICK MARBER’S
CLOSER

The prodigious Berkeley Repertory Theatre is currently presenting the west coast premier of Patrick Marber’s Closer. The company brought in British director Wilson Milan to direct the play. We saw his production of David Rabe’s Hurlyburly at the Queens Theatre in London several seasons ago and thought it brilliant. The company also employed actors and actresses from New York, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Seattle Rep to play the leads in the four character play.

Closer originally opened at the Royal National Theatre’s Cotteslow Theatre in 1997. The play moved to London’s West End Theatre in March 1998. When it first appeared the production created quite a stir in London because of its frequent use of four letters works and its sexual connotation between the four characters. The play moved to New York’s Music Box Theater in 1999 bringing an all British cast to our shores. Again, the play caused quite a rumpus in the theater world. We saw the production last year and it was one of the high points of our Broadway theater trip. We looked forward to see what the Berkeley Rep would do with the play. In short, they did a bang-up production. Direction, acting and sets were superior.

This production was harsher then the New York presentation. In New York, the characters were more comedic and probably, I hate the word, sophisticated. They were more characters than human. In the Berkeley’s offering the four characters had heart. They were harsher in their speech with each other and more human. I would say that Closer was more British in New York and more American in Berkeley.

The play does lack a strong plot line. Instead, Closer presents a series of brief scenes that take place during several years. The play examiness the shifting relationships between the four characters. It is more sexual then love between the two males and two female characters; this is a carnal play rather then a romantic comedy. Actually one of the actors in an interview said about the play, "it’s sex without responsibility."

This play explored the limit of emotion. It goes from love and lust to guilt and despair. It leaves no stone untouched. There was no nudity or simulated sex, however, there was something much stronger and that was the language, raw, obscene and shocking. You were hit in the face with it. This is a play that you would not take your maiden aunt from Iowa to see. Let’s face it, the language in the play is the now language that you hear every day whether you are walking down the street or in a mall. The words have become commonplace in today's lexicon.

The action covers four years in the life of these four persons living in London. You might say it is sort of a Private Lives for the late 1990’s. The play examiness the shifting relationships between the four characters, Larry, a dermatologist with a hankering for kinky sex and who has an intensity bordering on aggressiveness; Alice a young woman whose waif-like appearance serves her well as a part time stripper; Dan, a failed writer who is more in love with sex then love and has a loose sense of fidelity and Anna, a photographer who really does not have any particular traits. Of all the characters, she is the most intelligent and normal. She has wonderful lines to go against the male in sexual matters.

In the New York production the characters were sketchy and indistinct and you really did not care about them. This did not take away from the acting of Ciaran Hinds, Anna Friel, Natasha Richardson or Rupert Graves. It was the way the director wanted them portrayed. Mr Milam, the director, wanted the characters more human and real-like. He succeeded in presenting the four as mortal.

One of the major scenes in the first act is the computer scene between Dan and Larry. Larry is logged on to a London sex chat line and he does not realize that he is chatting with another male played by Dan. This is a brilliant piece of comic staging. The words between the two are projected onto the wall of the set. It was disturbingly hilarious. It was also interesting to note the night that we attended you could hear a pin drop in the audience. Only a few nervous twitterings came from some females in the sold out theater.

At the end of the first act, only a few persons clapped. I think most of them were in a state of shock. Eddy and I were two of the persons who clapped. However, at the end of the production, once the audience got use to the sexual and four letter words, the actors got a big hand from all. Also, all of the audience came back for the second act. There were no conservative right-wing folks at the Saturday night delivery we were attending.

The four actors were superb in their roles. Maggie Gyllenhaal gave an outstanding performance as Alice. She gave an eye-catching, intriguing realization of a waif who is very elusive and father seeking. Ms Gyllenhaal has performed in several plays in New York and London and has appeared in a series of independent films. Her next is John Water’s upcoming Cecil B Demented. Andrew Borda, who is a member of the OSF, played Dan. He is an exceptional actor that we have seen in many of the OSF plays. He was very effective inthe role as a self-centered individual who seems to be more in love with himself then others. Mr Borda has a profile of a Richard Gere and his voice and mannerisms on stage are skilled. Thomas Schall played Larry and he was the most volatile of the group. He played this to the hilt. In the last scene of the first act he really took off with an argument with Anna. It was almost frightening and I think it was so real that the audience did not know if they should clap or not. I think they were in a state of shock. Mr Schall has been seen on Broadway in Art and Ivanov. He has had extensive regional theater experience in Washington DC, Willamstown, and Hartford Stage. A grand performance.

Natacha Roi played Anna. This is the role that Ms. Richardson had on Broadway. She was remarkable and was probably the only well-balanced person of the group. She had wonderful witty lines to go against the males of the group. Her diction and presence on the stage was first rate. Ms Roi was the understudy to Ms. Richardson in New York and she was able to play the role when Ms. Richardson was indisposed. She also appeared in Wait Until Dark”in New York.

I recommend this play for all liberal thinking theater lovers who don’t mind today's language. It is well worth the effort to see this production.

One interesting side note. The Berkeley Rep have now put their Tony Award statue in a glass case and it can be seen by all in the lobby of the theater. They won this award several years back for being the best regional theater in the United States. Closer continues through July 9th at their Berkeley Theatre on Addison St. Tickets are $38-$48.50.

This production marks the end of the 99-00 season. The new 00-01 opens in the fall with Carlo Gozzi’s The Green Bird (this is not the New York production). They will also present David Marguilies Pulitzer Prize winning play Dinner with Friends, a world premier of Bridget Carpenter’s Fall, a gentle comedy about a young girl’s coming of age; beautifully told against rhythms from the heyday of swing, and Charles I. Mee's Big Love, which was the hit of the Humana Festival of New Plays. This is a free adaptation of Aeschylus The Suppliant Women. The fourth production will be announced when decided.

Cheers!


- Richard Connema



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