Closer | 02.11-27.11

Alice was the one we really cared about, the one we rooted for, the one we hoped would have a happily ever after.

Watching the St. Louis Actors Studio’s production of Patrick Marber’s Closer, I had to wonder: What effect did the film adaptation have on the audience and the actors? I have to think it was perhaps more jarring for we the viewers, given that we had never read the play itself.
You may remember in 2004 a very odd and sexually awkward film of the same name starring Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Jude Law and Clive Owen. It was very much a partner- and bed-hopping affair, with subdued performances and a permeating air of detachment. All of that holds true for this live production, as well.But it became something of a game, connecting these actors with their famous big-screen counterparts, and them comparing them as such.
The Wayne Salomon-directed production opens with an injured Alice (Rachel Fenton/Natalie Portman) nursing a bloody knee in a hospital waiting room. Dan (Christopher Lawyer/Jude Law) joins her, having been the one to pick her up from the street where she’d been struck by a cab, then bring her to the hospital. Before their five-minute exchange is over, Dan’s girlfriend and Alice’s recent split have been forgotten.
Next we meet photographer Anna (Meghan Maguire/Julia Roberts). She has Dan in her studio and is taking his picture for the jacket of his upcoming book. Their exchange is awkwardly tense and inexplicably flirtatious. Lawyer as Dan is fully believable in making such advances; what doesn’t ring true is why he would be swayed by Anna in the first place.
As I’m not privy to how Marber wrote the character, I must judge the performance as it is presented to me. Either Anna is a really dull and detached character—which I find hard to believe, as she is meant to fall in and out of both love and beds over the course of the play—or Maguire never brought her character to life. Anna as we see her is independent, dismissive. She shows absolutely no passion whatsoever; neither her photography, relationships or friendships seem to mean a thing to her.
A graphic chat room exchange between Dan and dermatologist Larry (John Pierson/Clive Owen)—in which Dan poses as a nymphomaniac he caAnna—leads to Anna and Larry meeting, falling in love and ultimately marrying. And here is where another jarring disconnect takes place. To say that Pierson is no Clive Owen would be an understatement; rather, he is middle-aged and balding. His odd combination of sexual forwardness and rule following make it hard to believe that any woman supposedly young and beautiful would even give him a chance.
All this is to say that only two characters actually seemed real. Until an extremely pouty performance late in the second act made him seem more cartoon than character, Lawyer’s Dan exuded the right combination of sex appeal and sleaze to be believable.
But it was Fenton as Alice who really kept the play moving and the audience interested. She was the one we really cared about, the one we rooted for, the one we hoped would have a happily ever after. Her smile was both alluring and infectious; she was winningly able to both lure men in and give of herself completely. The fact that she makes her living as a stripper—and a very good one at that—supports the rough childhood we are to believe she has had.
I would very much like to see another production of Closer sometime, just to see if it’s the play or the production that was lacking. That said, it’s still an entertaining way to spend two-plus hours…to say nothing of the time you’ll inevitably spend talking about it after it’s long over. | Laura Hamlett
Closer runs through February 27. Performances are at the Gaslight Theater, 360 N. Boyle in the Central West End. For more information, visit the STLAS website or call 314-458-2978.

Photos by John Lamb. top: Rachel Fenton as Alice. bottom: Rachel Fenton, Meghan Maguire, Christopher Lawyer and John Pierson.

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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