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Closer, but not close enough

CELEBRATED Closer was a laudable attempt at serious theatre

Patrick Marber's Closer, written in 1997 and first performed at the Royal National Theatre on May 22 the same year, is easily one of the most celebrated plays of the last decade. Performed to great acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic (performed in New York on March 9, 1999, directed by the playwright and starring Rupert Graves, Anna Friel and Natasha Richardson), it has been awarded and nominated for a posse of awards, including the 1998 Laurence Olivier Theatre Award for Best New Play of 1997, the 1997 London Critics' Circle Theatre Award (Drama) for Best New Play, the 1997 London Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Comedy, and a 1999 Tony nomination for Marber as author of best play. It was also made into a Hollywood film starring Clive Owen, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, and Jude Law, with screenplay by the playwright and directed by Mike Nichols; which was nominated for two Oscars.

Dramatic dialogues

The story of the intertwined lives of two couples, Dan and Alice, and Anna and Larry, the play is a savage yet tragicomic portrayal of the meaning of love and fulfilment in the post-modern, post-Internet urban wasteland. Replete with graphic sexual dialogue, the play, however, is at its heart a stirring bit of dramatic writing - at times almost Beckettian in its dark, mocking, yet tender representation of the quest for meaning amidst the meaninglessness of modern urban life. The characters are all individuals on the brink - Dan, the failed writer who writes obituaries for a living, Alice, the stripper who combines childishness with a raw, dangerous sexuality, Larry, the dentist with a penchant for self-deprecation and a huge chip on his shoulders, and Anna, the cool, distant, art-photographer, fighting her inner demons.

Given the international critical acclaim the play has garnered, the recent Black Coffee production, staged at the Alliance, was quite naturally eagerly anticipated. While commending director Rajeev Ravindranathan for having the guts to deal with such a complex script and bringing it to the Bangalore audience, one must nonetheless say that in spite of the best of intentions, the production was a failure in terms of execution. The director went wrong with his casting: in the script, Dan (like the other three) is a complex individual - at times darkly funny, maybe even malevolently so (as in the chat scene with Larry), at times wallowing in self-pity, at times obsessive, at times violent.

Portraying this role, Dariuss Soonawalla had all the panache of a five year old lost in a bordello. Completely stiff, monotonous and terribly boring, he dragged down the rest of the production along with him. Alice is probably the most fascinating character in the play; disarming, yet a pathological liar, innocent, yet possessing a self-conscious sexuality; self-possessed, yet tortured - it is any actress's dream. Nayantara Roy made an honest attempt at portraying these nuances, but ultimately succeeded in capturing only the frothy, superficial side of her persona, failing to capture the depths of her character in moments of emotional duress. Sabrine Baker as Anna delivered a convincing performance, though she wasn't easily comprehensible at times. Ashwin Matthew as Larry was good in patches, especially while delivering the dark one-liners, but not so effective in scenes of emotional intensity. The lighting by Ajith Hande was unimaginative and at times marred the dark undercurrent of the play by its overt brightness, as did the jerky sound by Ram Ganesh.

Should you watch the play the next time it's staged? Yes, because it is a laudable attempt at serious theatre, one that does not insult the audience's intelligence. But if you, like this reviewer, think that a great script requires great acting, you might just come back disappointed.


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