Written by Patrick Marber
Directed by Michael M. Donahue ’05
Produced by Joanna S. B. O’Leary ’03
Oct. 31, Nov. 1, Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m.; Nov 2. at 2:30 p.m.
Loeb Experimental Theater
In Closer, opening today at the Loeb Experimental Theater, a stripper, a writer, a doctor and a photographer randomly meet, have sex with each other and yet still remain, essentially, strangers. And that, says director Michael M. Donahue ’05, is a lot like life at Harvard.
“Life here moves so rapidly that it’s hard to take the time to get to know each other,” he says. “People are always trying to distinguish between sex and romance, using sex as a tool to build relationships. As a result, people build up idealized representations of each other that are not always who they really are.”
Closer is not about closeness, and it does not foster intimacy. Patrick Marber’s 1999 play revolves around Alice (Michelle A. Chaney ’05), a stripper with a sordid past; her boyfriend Dan (Charles E. Worthington ’06), a charming idealist; Anna (Jordan R. Berkow ’03), a hardened introvert, and her husband Larry (George F. Broadwater ’04), a self-defeating altruist. The four Londoners throughout the play attempt to unravel the mess resulting from their complicated partner swapping.
Although the characters do sustain semi-faithful sexual relationships over a number of years in the play, they are never fully aware of each other’s true identities. “You’re a cartoon,” Alice snaps at Dan, not yet aware that she’ll never know the man behind the caricature.
The play aims “to confront the gap between the selves we present and the selves we really are,” says producer Joanna S.B. O’Leary ’03, referring both to Closer and students at Harvard.
Donahue believes the audience will see the strong parallels between the show and Harvard life. When the characters meet and interact, there is always an element of manipulation in their dialogue. No conversation is without its motive, and no expression is without obvious suggestion. In a sense, everyone is constantly trying to pigeonhole everyone else into an identity that suits his or her needs.
“This is how real people behave,” Donahue says. The problem, he argues, is that this behavior result in false intimacy, like the kind Closer describes.
In essence, the show is about what happens when strangers are put in close quarters and forced to face each other head on. The set ensures that this theme is not lost on the audience. The stage is placed in the center of the Experimental Theater, on a diagonal that the audience sits on both sides of. They must watch the reactions across the stage as they watch the action on stage.
“We don’t want the audience to simply watch and intellectualize from a detached point of view,” Donahue says. The minimalist furniture against the empty, gray background forces the audience to relate to the play on its own terms. “The set is not meant to be overly involved. It’s actually very passive,” explains set designer Kenneth P. Herrera ’03. “We wanted to play with the idea that this is still a very realistic, transitory space.”
The most explicit elements of the set design are the movable frames that, aside from referring to Anna’s photography, rise and fall to feature certain instances in the dialogue, emphasizing the idea that the play consists of “snapshots of people’s lives and relationships,” Herrera says.
Closer is by no means an easy play to watch. It is highly stylized and emotionally raw. The play is challenging, Donahue says, but worth the effort. Just like Harvard.