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Love Hurts

Sex and lies make for a compelling love quadrangle.

Melissa O'Brien gets in Timothy Dillon's lap.

By Phyllis Zhu | Posted 3/3/2010

Closer

By Patrick Marber

Through March 13 at Mobtown Theatre

There's something about the intensity of Mobtown Theatre's production of Patrick Marber's Closer that leaves you marveling at the psychological torments of love. The plot may seem familiar as the dark romantic drama--which made its North American debut on Broadway in 1999--was also adapted to film in 2004 by Mike Nichols. Though Closer reveals the complicated, destructive, raw, and enervating nature of relationships, it also reminds us why we seek them.

Closer tells the story of two couples in London who become entangled in a cat's cradle of illicit love affairs. Alice (Melissa O'Brien) is a waifish stripper who yearns for the affection of Dan (Brian Kraszewski), a reserved and unsuccessful journalist shafted into writing the obituaries. He meets and falls for the beautiful and defiant Anna (Bobbi Datz) when she takes his picture for his upcoming novel, which, incidentally, is ripped from Alice's life as a showgirl. Larry (Timothy Dillon), a dermatologist with Neanderthal drives, comes into the mix when Dan lures him into a meeting with Anna when he poses as the photographer in a chat-room hoax.

Lust, jealousy, deceit, and rampant infidelity ensue: Alice, with her childish drawl, clings to her complete, fantastic infatuation with the "man who cuts the crusts from his bread," while Dan begins a fling with Anna, whose accidental encounter with Larry has meanwhile burgeoned into holy matrimony. The couples engage in a series of secret rendezvous and guilt-provoked confessions, bitter separations and bittersweet reconciliations, intense love and even more intense hate. They become consumed in their twisted love game to the point that sex becomes a weapon, and obsession and love are no longer distinguishable.

Perhaps the experience is so powerful because it is all too relatable and all too real. Alice's desperation to be loved combined with her inability to expose her true identity and past make for an impossible situation. Larry's inability to forgive and his need to have the last say fuels a constant battle between him and Dan, and Dan's general weakness of will leaves him in a constant state of discontent.

Director Erin Riley plays with the swapping of the couples. In one scene, she cleverly overlaps two temporally distinct episodes, in which Anna meets Dan at the same cafe where she met Larry earlier that day. As Dan departs to the bathroom, the phantom Larry of hours past takes his place at the table and plays out his earlier meeting with Anna. The substitution flows well, and Datz effectively switches from one interaction to the other. In another, the couples are on stage at the same time, mirroring each other's quarrels, with the spotlight shifting between the two arguments. The set up reflects the extent to which the characters' love lives have become inseparable, both emotionally and onstage.

The simplicity of the set designed by Michelle Datz juxtaposes nicely with the emotional heaviness that clings to the room, like the smell of the cigarettes that Larry, Dan, and Alice puff on throughout the play.

The strongest couple, both students at Loyola University, is Datz and Dillon as Anna and Larry. As a first-time Mobtown player, Dillon brings a certain degree of energetic ferocity to the stage that the others seemed to lack, particularly in the confrontation scenes. He's not afraid to shout, and he's not afraid to make us flinch like Anna does when she thinks that he's going to hit her. Datz maintains an unsmiling exterior throughout, and her character is believable in her guilt. Together, they make a convincing disgruntled pair.

Another shout out goes to O'Brien as Alice. When O'Brien strips in her nude scene with Dillon, her comfort with baring all does more than just unsettle the audience. Her performance in the scene conveys the erotic tension between Alice and Larry and the emotional vulnerability of an abandoned woman, but more importantly, it puts into perspective the inhuman ease with which people lie, cheat, and betray their lovers.

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