Closer (play)

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Closer
Patrick Marber, Closer(play), 1st ed coverart.jpg
Grove edition
Written by Patrick Marber
Characters Dan, Alice (Jane Jones), Anna, Larry
Date premiered 29 May 1997
Place premiered Cottesloe Theatre
London
Original language English
Subject A quartet of strangers in a sexual square dance in which partners are constantly swapped, caught between desire and betrayal.
Genre Drama, Melodrama
Setting London, 1990s
IBDB profile

Closer is the third play written by English playwright Patrick Marber. The play was premiered at the Royal National Theatre's Cottesloe Theatre in London in 1997, and made its North American debut at the Music Box Theatre on Broadway on 25 January 1999.

Background[edit]

Closer was first performed at the Royal National Theatre in London on 29 May 1997; it was the second original play written by Patrick Marber. Closer has drawn comparisons with Noël Coward's Private Lives, Harold Pinter's Betrayal, and Les Liaisons Dangereuses in its intricate focus on the politics of four people trading partners for lust.[1]

Plot[edit]

A young man, Dan, takes a young woman to hospital after she has been hit by a taxi; they flirt as they wait for the doctor to attend to her bloodied knee. Larry, a doctor in dermatology, inspects her leg briefly and leaves. Dan and the young woman introduce themselves—he is Daniel Woolf, an obituary writer and failed writer who tells her how he and his colleagues use euphemisms humorously in their work in obituaries. Upon the girl's prompting, he says his euphemism would be "reserved" and hers would be "disarming". She is Alice Ayres, a self-described waif who has a scar along her leg which is shaped like a question mark. Wanting him to spend the rest of the day with her, she calls his editor and tells his boss that he's sick and can't come in to work.

More than a year later, Dan is on the verge of publishing a book based on Alice's past as a stripper, and Anna is taking his photograph for publicity. Dan falls in love with Anna, though he is in a relationship with Alice, having left his former girlfriend for her. He begs Anna to see him again, and she rejects him. Alice overhears his conversation with Anna. She asks Anna to take her photo, and when Dan has left, confronts her; Anna insists she is "not a thief" and snaps a photo of a tear-stricken Alice.

Six months later, Dan and Larry meet in an adult chat room. Dan impersonates Anna and has internet sex with Larry. He tries to play a practical joke on Larry by arranging for Larry to meet him (Dan pretending to be Anna in the chat room) in the London Aquarium the next day. When Larry arrives, stunned to see Anna (who Dan didn't know would actually be there), he acts under the impression that she is the same person from last night and makes a fool of himself. Anna catches on and explains that it was probably Dan playing a practical joke on him. She reveals that it is her birthday and snaps a photo of Larry. They become a couple.

At Anna's showing, Alice stands in front of her photo, looking at it; Dan is watching her. They have an argument over Alice's presentiment that Dan will leave her. Larry meets Alice, whom he recognises as the woman in the photo, and knows that she is Dan's girlfriend. Meanwhile, Dan convinces Anna to carry on an affair with him. They cheat on their partners with each other, even through Anna and Larry's marriage. Finally, one year later, they tell their partners the truth and leave their respective partners for each other.

Alice, devastated, disappears from Dan's life and goes back to stripping, going by the name Jane. Larry finds her at one of the seedy strip clubs in London, where he pushes her to tell the truth about her name. In a poignant moment, he asks, "Tell me something true, Alice." She tells him, "Lying is the most fun a girl can have, without taking her clothes off, but it's better if you do." They share a connection based on mutual betrayal and heartbreak. He asks her to meet him later for sex. She declines, but we later learn she does actually go home with him after all.

A month after this, Anna is late meeting Dan for dinner. She's come from asking Larry to sign the divorce papers. Dan finds out that Larry had demanded Anna have sex with him before he would sign the papers. Dan becomes upset and jealous, asking Anna why she didn’t lie to him. They have a candid, brutally truthful conversation, and it is revealed that Anna did in fact have sex with Larry and he did sign the papers.

Alice meanwhile has been sleeping with Larry. On his birthday, she summons him to the museum and sets up Anna to meet him there. Larry and Anna exchange words, as Anna discovers Alice and Larry have been having a casual relationship. Larry asks Anna if their divorce will ever become finalised; he leaves when Alice emerges. The two women share a heated exchange in which their mutual animosity is revealed. Anna calls Alice "primitive", a description Alice accepts. The younger Alice paints a pathetic picture of Larry's emotional state and gleans from Anna that Dan still calls out for "Buster" (Alice's nickname) in his sleep.

Anna goes back to Larry. Distraught, Dan confronts Larry at his office and has to come to terms with the fact that Anna no longer wants him. Larry recommends Dan go back to Alice and reveals that he had seen her in the strip club. He lies for Alice at first and tells Dan that they did not sleep together, since Alice feared that, if Dan found out, he would not want her any more. At the end, Larry decides to hurt Dan and reveals the truth—that they had slept together.

Dan and Alice, back together, are preparing to go to America. They relive the memories of their first meeting, but Dan is haunted by their encounters with Larry and Anna and pushes Alice to tell him the truth. In the moment when Alice becomes caught between telling the truth (which she refuses to do) and being unable to lie to him, she falls out of love with Dan and says, "I don't love you anymore. Goodbye." (She had told Dan in the beginning that these are the words she tells her significant others when their relationship is over and she is going to leave.) She tells Dan to leave. Dan struggles with her; she spits in his face, and he throws her back on the bed, grabbing her neck. She dares him to hit her, and he hits her; she leaves.

Later, Anna and Larry meet again, only to reveal that they have broken up once again and Larry is dating a young nurse named Polly. They are meeting because Alice has died the night before in New York, having been hit by a car while crossing the street. Larry leaves as Dan arrives because he has patients to see. Dan talks with Anna and says that no one could identify Alice's body and he is flying over to America to do so. Before Dan leaves, he tells Anna that Ruth, his ex-girlfriend whom he left for Alice/Jane, is now married, has a child, and is pregnant with a second. She married a poet, having fallen in love with him (without ever having met him) by reading his book of poems called Solitude. Dan and Anna tell each other "goodbye" somewhat coldly and Dan leaves to catch his flight, leaving Anna alone.

Genre[edit]

Closer is formed in the style of a drama, characteristically blending elements of classical tragedy, classical comedy, and melodrama. The characters very much resemble the viewing subjects and the conflicts occur between people, in the style of a melodrama. On the other hand, the way the plot progresses is comedic—several romances are pursued. Dan plays a massive comedic trick on Larry, which results in another romance emerging. There are moments of cognito, where Alice realises that she does not love Dan any more and Dan realises he loves Alice—and the final moment of revelation occurs when Alice's true identity is unveiled. But these elements blend with melodramatic plot twists—the four characters switch partners frequently, and their emotional statuses constantly fluctuate between high and low, in a series of reversals that build toward increasing tension.

Spectacle[edit]

The play is set in a few small locales—a hospital room, a studio, a pair of living rooms, a café, a room in the museum, in front of a photo at a showing, a doctor's office, a bench in front of a suggested aquarium. The text of the play insists on all settings being "minimal". Though evocative of real happenings, the lack of physical detail in setting is meant to balance the verbal excess. Places are evoked, not shown—benches instead of the front of a museum; a large photo instead of the entire showing.

According to Robert Brustein, in the original production, "Memorial blocks constitute the backdrop of the set—a design that gradually accumulates all the scenic pieces used in the play, as if these four lives were a detritus of props and furniture."[1] The setting is formed to be deliberately symbolic.

Themes[edit]

The central theme of Closer revolves around truth. All the characters have a tense relationship with truth—only Alice is "not passionate about veracity".[2] Truth, for Dan, is what distinguishes humans from animals—and yet Alice accepts her identity as not quite human for any of the other characters, and loves her primitivism. Arguably, her inability to deal with the truth causes her to leave Dan at the end. Those who are passionate about veracity press each other to tell the complete truth, no matter the emotional pain caused by it—and the controlling irony of the situation is that though the truth clarifies, it does not bring together. No one is made "closer" by the truth.

Also being challenged and taken apart is the illusion of love and romance. Dan, the failed writer, speaks in romantic language but feels the least qualms about his infidelities. The characters are driven both by a need for love and a need for sex—these needs clash at times, as when Larry tells Dan that Alice needed love, and Dan had left her for a relationship with Anna. The mythic constructions surrounding personal relationships—the myth of love and truth bringing us together, is deliberately and wilfully turned on its head by Marber.

Closer has been described as a work that "gets under its audience's skin, and ... not for the emotionally squeamish", a work in which "Marber is alert to the cruel inequalities of love, as the characters change partners in what sometimes comes over like a modern reworking of Coward's Private Lives."[3]

Style[edit]

Closer is a play that straddles the line between modernity and post-modernity. The audience must take an active hand in constructing the narrative, disrupting the stability of their perceptions. The minimal sets and unindicated time gaps between scenes disrupt the unity of the play, allowing it to "feel compressed".

Questions of morality are raised—the assumption that the absolute truth is healthy for relationships is challenged. Romantic notions of love and sex bringing people closer are turned on their heads. The author seems to be concerned also with the element of new forms of communication changing the way we relate—how media like Internet and photography misleads, paints false pictures, and enables people to project their own expectations and lies onto each other. Though the plot is comprehensible, it requires attention to fill in the gaps left by the narrative—as if a linear, logical chronology were only sketched in half way. At times two different but related scenes are simultaneously presented, breaking the linear flow—like when the two couples break apart in act two, scene six, or when Anna must deal with Dan and Larry both at once in act two, scene eight.

The texture of the characters is distorted; though their language is real, the characters are sketches. The setting is unfamiliar as well, due to the minimal sets and the stripped nature of the language. The play is written as representational—evocative of real happenings, the lack of physical detail is meant to balance the physical excesses, and integrate an audience participation that nonetheless is distanced by the constant fourth wall. Places are evoked, not shown—such as the Postman's Park which ties together the beginning of the play with the end. The language used is very vernacular and brutal, but integrated into a tightly choreographed formal style, in which the scenes build up toward a climax and wind down again in approximately reversed order.

Marber described the play's "construction" in an October 1999 interview:

The idea was always to create something that has a formal beauty into which you could shove all this anger and fury. I hoped the dramatic power of the play would rest on that tension between elegant structure (the underlying plan is that you see the first and last meeting of every couple in the play) and inelegant emotion.[3]

Language[edit]

The language of Marber's play is brutal and sexually explicit. In scene three, where Dan and Larry are chatting on a sexual internet site, instant messaging, Marber uses crude and up-to-date terminology and dialogue that you would only see in an instant messaging conversation via the internet. In a review of the Broadway run in New York magazine, John Simon writes, "Marber tells his story in short, staccato scenes in which the unsaid talks as loudly as the said. The dialogue is almost entirely stichomythic, the occasional speech still not much longer than a few lines. There are frequent pauses, but not of the Pinteresque variety—more like skipped heartbeats... Closer does not merely hold your attention; it burrows into you." Dan is dismissive of simple words like "kind"—"Kind is dull; Kind will kill you." According to Matt Wolf, "the animalistic pulse of the play [is] reflected in its often scabrous language".[2]

Music[edit]

Although no music is indicated in Marber's script to specifically be used, different productions have often most commonly used classical music, like in the 2004 film version of Closer. In one production, the music in Closer was composed by Paddy Cunneen, a score described as sounding like "modern Bach".[1]

Productions[edit]

Royal National Theatre[edit]

It was first performed at the Royal National Theatre, London, on 22 May 1997.

West End[edit]

In March the next year the play moved to the West End.

Music Box Theatre[edit]

The first American performance was presented 9 March 1999, on Broadway at the Music Box Theater, New York, by Robert Fox, Scott Rudin, Roger Berlind, Carole Shorenstein Hays, ABC Inc., the Shubert Organization, and the Royal National Theatre.

The production core consisted of:

Director Patrick Marber
Designer Vicki Mortimer
Lighting Hugh Vanstone
Music Paddy Cunneen
Sound Simon Baker
Internet John Owens
Production stage manager R. Wade Jackson

Closer ran for 172 performances on Broadway during 1999, with Polly Draper replacing Richardson starting 15 June.[4] Closer won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Foreign Play and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play in 1999.[5]

Theatre Fontaine[edit]

It received its Paris premiere on 22 December 1998 at the Theatre Fontaine, in a production based on a French translation by Pierre Laville and directed by Patrice Kerbrat.[6]

California[edit]

Early productions of Closer on the West Coast of the United States include one featuring Maggie Gyllenhaal as Alice in a Berkeley Repertory Theatre production in May 2000 (directed by Wilson Milam),[7] and another also featuring Gyllenhaal opposite Rebecca De Mornay as Anna in a Mark Taper Forum production in December 2000, directed by Robert Egan.[8]

Divadlo Na Jezerce[edit]

Directed by Jan Hřebejk. The play had its premiere on 22 November 2009 in Jezerka Theatre, in Prague. The Czech title is Na Dotek.

Slezské divadlo[edit]

Directed by Ivan Krejčí. The play had its premiere on 21 March 2004 in the Silesian Theatre in Opava.

  • Dan .... Ladislav Špiner or Ondřej Veselý
  • Alice .... Sabina Figarová or Veronika Senciová
  • Anna .... Hana Vaňková
  • Larry .... Kostas Zerdaloglu

As of 2001, the play has been produced in more than a hundred cities in over thirty different languages around the world.[9]

In February 2009 a new German translation of the play opened in Berlin under the title Hautnah.

Film adaptation[edit]

In 2004, Marber adapted the play for a film of the same title. The feature film was directed by Mike Nichols, with stars Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, and Clive Owen.

References in popular culture[edit]

The line Anna speaks to Larry, "he tastes like you, only sweeter", is used in the Fall Out Boy song "Thnks fr th Mmrs". Also, the line spoken by Larry to Alice/Jane in the strip club, "I love everything about you that hurts", is used in the song "G.I.N.A.S.F.S.", also by Fall Out Boy.

The band Panic! at the Disco split a line from the play into two song titles on their album A Fever You Can't Sweat Out: "Lying Is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off" and "But It's Better If You Do".

Larry's line to Dan, "Have you ever seen a human heart? It looks like a fist wrapped in blood", is used by Canadian post-hardcore band Silverstein as a title to the song "Fist Wrapped in Blood" on their 2005 album Discovering the Waterfront.

Awards and nominations[edit]

The play won the 1997 Evening Standard Best Comedy Award and the 1998 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play.[10]

Awards
Nominations

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Marber, Patrick (1999). Closer (First ed.). London: Methuen Drama. ISBN 0-413-70950-7. 

External links[edit]