Closer

Theatre Review by Fergus McGillicuddy

NEW YORK - March 25, 1999


Closer In London, Closer won the 1997 Evening Standard "Best Comedy Award," the 1997 Critics' Circle "Best Play Award," and the 1998 Olivier Award for "Best New Play." The names Coward, Schnitzler, and Racine have been invoked in attempts to describe and explain the complexities of its somewhat rigid and formal structure. It contains lots of graphically explicit language which some people may find offensive and a scene in an Internet chat room which experienced "surfers" will find trite, but still a little too true for comfort. It's all about sex, jealousy, loneliness, desire, guilt and revenge. And, it will mark Natasha Richardson's return to Broadway following her triumphant Tony Award-winning performance in Cabaret. All in all, as the saying goes, something for everybody and one might have reasonable expectations of an interesting and entertaining evening at the theatre.

Unfortunately, such is not the case with Closer, opening tonight at the Music Box Theatre. Closer tells the cold, sterile, cruel, empty, un-fulfilling, and not particularly funny story of four unpleasant people who mate, break up, swap partners, seek revenge on and willfully hurt each other. Spanning four years, the individual scenes are mercifully short and set in a number of different locales in an unsuccessful attempt to give the impression a great deal is actually happening to its characters.

It starts in an emergency room, where Dan (Rupert Graves), a writer, has brought Alice (Anna Friel), a stripper, after seeing her knocked down in traffic. Predictably, Dan falls in love with Alice, moves in with and writes a book about her. Dan - quite the busy lad - then falls for photographer Anna (Natasha Richardson), who has also photographed Alice, while she's taking the publicity pictures for his book. Dan - are you seeing a pattern here? - then pretends to be a trashy, fantasy version of Anna in an Internet chat room, which results in Dan introducing Anna to Larry (Ciaran Hinds), the doctor who examined Alice in the first scene, and Larry and Anna dutifully proceed to fall in love.

And then things start to go wrong. Dan and Anna begin an affair. Alice and Larry then get together and have an affair based more on despair and the desire for revenge than love or even plain old sexual attraction. And so on and on. If Closer does just manage to keep one speculating on what's going to happen to its characters next, it's the sort of grim interest in evidence at the scene of a tragic accident, with the bystanders waiting for a glimpse of mangled bodies being carried away on stretchers.

As plodding as most of the evening is, Closer does manage to pick up a little speed and generate some interest late in Act Two, when Alice, comparatively the most understandable of the group, manages to spring a few surprises and generates the only warmth and genuine feeling of the evening. But after all is said and done, when everything, including an unexpected death, has been endured, one is left with the feeling nothing has really happened at all.

Natasha Richardson and Ciaran Hinds appear much more in control of the material they have to work with than do Rupert Graves and Anna Friel. However, none of them can be said to successfully survive the pretentious dialogue, jokes that repeatedly fall flat, and empty, actorly moments which make up most of this misguided production.

1969 saw the release of the less than classic film Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, a groovy but pretentious pseudo psychological look at modern, ultra sophisticated lifestyles and sexual freedom. Closer strikes one as its theatrical sequel, 30 years on, older but no wiser, with a curious end of the century spin that sexual and emotional freedom now apparently includes the right to extract revenge, pain, and suffering from any partner who cannot or will not completely fulfill ones needs and banish the loneliness.

Closer, a play written and directed by Patrick Marber, starring Natasha Richardson (Anna), Rupert Graves (Dan), Anna Friel (Alice) and Ciaran Hinds (Larry). Production designed by Vicki Mortimer, lighting designed by Hugh Vanstone, music by Paddy Cunneen, and sound designed by Simon Baker. Produced by Robert Fox, Scott Ellis, Roger Berlind, Carole Shorenstein Hays, the Shubert Organization and ABC, Inc.

Running time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

Theatre: Music Box Theatre, 239 West 45th Street, New York, NY 10036 (between Broadway and 8th Avenue)

Dates and times: Tuesday through Saturday at 8 P.M., Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 P.M. No performance Sunday, March 28 at 2 P.M.

Audience: May be inappropriate for ages 16 and under. Children under 4 are not permitted in the theatre.

Tickets: $15 to $60

Tickets in person: Box Office hours Monday through Saturday 10 A.M. to 8 P.M., Sunday Noon to 6 P.M.

Tickets by phone: Tele-charge (212) 239-6255, or outside the New York metro area (800) 545-2559, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Tickets by internet: NetTiks at http://www.telecharge.com/

Tickets by E-Mail: Tickets@telecharge.com

Tickets by snail mail: Closer, PO Box 998, Times Square Station, New York, NY 10108-0998

Rush tickets: $20 Student Rush tickets are available only at the Box Office, on the day of the performance, with valid Student ID. Limit 2 per person, subject to availability.

Standing room: $15 standing room tickets are available only at the Box Office, and only when the performance is sold out.