DIY Theatre’s production of Closer still a fresh insight into relationships 20 years after its debut

Closer by Patrick Marber was a huge hit back in the late ’90s, garnering either wins or nominations for just about every major theatre prize in London and New York. It also won the biggest prize of all: being adapted into a major motion picture starring Hollywood heavyweights Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen. And here it is in Calgary more than 20 years after its London debut — and the script still feels extremely fresh.

Closer follows the beginnings and endings of the various relationships of four characters (Dan the journalist, Anna the photographer, Larry the doctor, and Alice the exotic dancer), all on-again/off-again with one another creating a rather “bizarre love square” that spans more than four years. A constant theme throughout the hook-ups and break-ups of these characters is deception (fake names, fake identities, false pretenses, etc.), and using the truth selectively to hurt, control, or manipulate one another, rather than for intimacy or connection. The audience never sees these relationships in between their beginnings and endings, and as such Marber really shines a light on the despicable nature of our comings and goings. “What’s so great about the truth?” one character muses. “Try lying for a change, it’s the currency of the world.”

When I saw the film version of Closer when it was released back in 2004, I hated it! I couldn’t find one redeeming quality in any of the characters and thought they were all cold, selfish assholes. Seeing the play now, almost 15 years later, I feel very different – they may still be cold, selfish assholes, but I recognize them now and I was completely drawn into every scene and every interaction between the four characters. Marber’s script is just flawless with dialogue that’s honest but nuanced, funny but sad, and such juicy material for any actor to sink their teeth into. It’s just fun to watch.

DIY Theatre is a young, independent company performing in a studio theatre, so there are definitely limitations to the production. The set is simultaneously minimalistic and sloppy, made up of things like benches and the kinds of wooden cubes popular in high school drama rooms everywhere, and the scene changes seemed clumsy. Usually the shortcomings of the set didn’t really matter, but in one break-up scene a character admits to her husband of conducting an affair in their home, and when he demands to know where they’d had sex she motions to one such uncomfortable, wooden, drama-room cube, and I had to giggle to myself when the husband is outraged since the uncomfortable, wooden, drama-room cube also happens to be the first place they ever had sex. The idea of anyone opting to have sex on this cube is hilarious, let alone two sets of people. I’m still giggling about it now, and don’t get me started on when, at the height of their argument, the husband leaps upon said cube for dramatic effect.

The actors do quite a good job, though, with a lot of intense scenes where each hit many different notes, both tragic and comedic. Kristy Benz, as Anna, was particularly strong as the beautiful and talented photographer who throws her perfect marriage away for a hopelessly flawed affair. Every line she delivers elegantly weaves together a character whose seemingly misguided decisions somehow made perfect sense to me. I loved watching her play off the other actors and give such true reactions to every situation in which she found herself.

Director Kaleigh Richards chose to set the play in its native London (which I think was definitely the right choice), but a couple of the actors struggled with their accents which was a bit distracting at times.

(Photo courtesy DIY Theatre.)

Closer runs at Motel in Arts Commons until April 21. Visit diytheatre.org for showtimes.

Christine Armstrong is an arts enthusiast who has spent her career in the arts sector as a community-builder, program coordinator, educator, researcher, publicist, strategist, general manager, fundraiser, and more! She’s currently keeping busy raising her two kids and sitting on the board of the National Arts Centre Foundation.