CLOSER by Patrick Marber, directed by Dennis Garnhum, with Shaun Smyth, Angela Vint, Gina Wilkinson and Blair Williams. Presented by Canadian Stage (26 Berkeley). Runs to April 7, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday 1:30 pm, Saturday 2 pm. $20-$45. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
on the surface it might seem like a 30-somethings' soap with British accents, but there's lots of intelligence, craft and heart in Patrick Marber's scathingly entertaining play Closer.His look at the pairings and re-pairings of a quartet of Brits -- a stripper (Angela Vint), an obit writer/novelist (Shaun Smyth), a photographer (Gina Wilkinson) and a dermatologist (Blair Williams) -- brings up themes like love, lust, intimacy and power. It delivers few answers but plenty of questions.
Pornographic? No way. Controversial? Sure. Disturbing? Very.
But what's disturbing aren't the flashes of skin we're shown or the four-letter words tossed across the Berkeley Street stage like darts. What's troubling is the motivation behind the characters' words and actions. Marber's is a dark but real world, a few gritty blocks from Pinter's Betrayal and Coward's Private Lives, where people use others for sex or art, where the phrase "I love you" is debased currency, where knowledge is power and honesty needs to be redefined.
Dennis Garnhum directs smoothly, seducing us into the play and gradually drawing us into the characters' fucked-up lives.
Williams's doctor takes the most disturbing journey of all -- he's always one step away from violence and always watchable. Only Wilkinson's photographer seems lost, relying on a mannered, husky voice to get her by.
Peter Hartwell's set has to become, variously, an aquarium, a public square, a strip club, an art gallery and several domestic interiors. Movable walls work efficiently, suggesting the possibility of someone eavesdropping or lingering like a ghost, which happens occasionlly to powerful effect.
Dave Howard's sound design, except for some bad song choices, subtly evokes the flutter of birds, the muted sound of traffic or an alarm that become a subconscious presence.
Closer is close to perfection.