The relativity of truth is one of the enduring problems of the last half-century, and it is particularly gray and dangerous in Patrick Marber's 1996 drama Closer. Rolling Die Productions stages the darkly comedic work at the Players' Ring in Portsmouth, under the excellent direction of Joi Smith, and it is a psychologically unsettling must-see — a taut, impeccable cast, and arrestingly acted production.
Captivating 20-year-old urchin Alice (Rebecca Rudolf), a former stripper in America, meets Dan (Christopher Savage), a married obituary writer, when she steps in front of his car on a London street. He takes her to the hospital, where she has a brief exchange with a doctor, Larry (Todd Hunter), and while Alice and Dan sit in the waiting room, they flirt and plan to spend the day together. The next scene fast-forwards to a year hence: Stylishly cynical Dan is about to publish a novel based on Alice's life as a stripper, and the two now live together. But when his publicity photos are shot by the beautiful and self-possessed Anna (Constance Whitman), their attraction is instant and uncontrollable. Later, when the frustrated Dan, writing as "Anna," meets the unabashedly horny Larry in an Internet sex chatroom, the four vertices are in place for a range of fraught love polygons.
As these four people messily draw and redraw the lines of their lust and love, they are hurt, confounded, and enraged by the ambiguous nature of the truth, and how often it is neither definitive nor a virtue. Between them, they employ a range of vehicles to capture each other — photography, writing, sexual performance and fantasy, the clinical gaze of science — and through them, "truth" and "fantasy" prove rather fluid propositions. Everyone here is involved in some form of invention, projection, or deception.
Marber's script is grounded in tight restraint — the deft compression of years without laborious exposition; clipped, one-word progressions of understated jabs, questions, and corrections between Dan and Anna as she resists him, or Anna and Larry as he interrogates her, or Larry and Alice as he pries into her past, or Alice and Dan as she begs or indicts him. Then, at key moments, the script's restraint veers into verbal excess and brutal, obscenely elaborate revelation: Characters suddenly prevail upon each other for excruciating specificity, for example, about the acts, the organs, and even the tastes of their sexual betrayals.
Director Smith's less-is-more direction does breathtaking justice to Marber's style: Dialogue is clipped and quick; tense gazes and goodbyes are often over almost before we register them; and characters often deliver and receive violent indictments with the stillness and expressionlessness of people feeling a frightening lot beneath the surface.
Whitman's exquisite Anna is the quintessence of watchful, economical restraint; she most often relates her inner turmoil by the barest of signs — a slight twitch of finger, her infinitesimal nod of Yes, she is going to leave the man who is asking the question. As her female counterpoint, Alice, Rudolf's changeability is vertiginous, and frankly frightening, as she swings from smart, gamine candor to a dark, wary knowledge beyond her years. As for their id-ruled men, a key distinction is in the less-refined Larry's inherent self-knowledge — "I'm a fucking caveman," he acknowledges. Dan, on the other hand, has the same m.o. but also an armor of chic irony, which for a long time keeps him from confronting his own gray areas.