- Jan Gilbert, David Barr, Beth Curley, and J.C. Conway let loose their libidos in Closer
Running Sat. and Sun. through Oct. 15 at 7 p.m.
The Map Room, 1650 Sam Rittenberg Blvd.
343-6560 or www.theatreverv.org
There's a whole lot of fucking going on in Patrick Marber's play Closer, and to all outward appearances very little of it has anything to do with making love, though love is ostensibly, superficially, what this play is all about. The four lonesome Londoners in the story slip into and out of each other's lives — and, variously, each other — like the action of an origami fortune teller, each time offering up a different variation of flawed relationships anesthetized by fear, self-loathing, and deception. Lying, as one character wryly observes, is "the currency of the day," and the characters in Marber's play indulge in it with at least as much gusto as they do the more horizontal aspects of coupledom. The result is as cynical a vision of modern love as has appeared on a Charleston stage in some time, and theatre /verv/'s generally good production serves it up largely as it's meant to be: like a bucket of ice water to the face — a little unpleasant, but nothing if not bracing.
In 1999 Closer was a Tony nominee for Best Play, and for good reason. Marber has a remarkable gift for dialogue that operates at a stratospheric level, flirting with the fringes of naturalism while providing a murky window into what's actually going on beneath the dialogue, into the often unspoken emotions that his scenes are really about. Which, more often than not, are the brutal endings of relationships and their sometimes only slightly less brutal beginnings. Along the way, much of the talk among Marbers' sex-obsessed characters reads like an inventory of the darkest corners of your junk mail folder.
Alice (Beth Curley) is a waifish, angel-faced stripper with a heart of ... well, gold may be pushing it, who latches onto obit writer and hopeful novelist Dan (David Barr) after he bumps her with his car and rushes her to the hospital. Anna (Jan Gilbert) is a 30-ish photographer who first meets Dan a year later while shooting his portrait for a book jacket and letting herself be seduced by him under Alice's button nose. Larry (J.C. Conway) is a dermatologist who meets Anna by accident after being fiendishly set up by Dan, posing in an internet chat room called LondonFucks as "SxKitn69," a.k.a. Anna, who suggests he meet her and her "epic tits" at the Aquarium the following day.
What follows is a series of tightly drawn scenes in which characters announce to each other, in the most ruthless and entertaining of ways, that they've been sleeping with one of the others for months or years, and have fallen passionately in love with him or her — only to realize much later that said announcement may have been premature, to say the least. By the end, each character's heart has been torn, shredded, and hammered into bloody cube steak.
Theatre /verv/, who formerly produced at the now-defunct Bar 145, has set up shop at the business end of The Map Room in West Ashley, where a clever arrangement of white bedsheets has turned the music stage into a theatre set with three entrances. Unfortunately, the joint's owners seem to want to operate the rest of the bar as if nothing much were going on at that end — or at least nothing that would require them to dim the lights or ask braying bar patrons to keep their voices down. Conway, Barr, Curley, and Gilbert all manage to be heard above the din, though many of the play's most highly-charged scenes fall a little flat, either because the actors' emotional connection with their characters isn't there or because both they and the audience have trouble slipping into this alternate reality at the far end of a noisy bar.
It's not an unworkable arrangement; Pluff Mud's two seasons at the Windjammer in the mid '90s worked splendidly for that venue, but only because the club owners understood that if it was going to succeed, it was going to take the whole bar's attention for two hours. If The Map Room can show the same wisdom, it may find theatre /verv/ an even better partner than karaoke. Here's hoping.