This play has become pretty legendary among actors. I had heard of it. I had seen scenes from it in acting class. It seemed like a play I just couldn’t escape. Closer seemed to be looming closer into my life.

And then I was told by my former acting teacher to do a scene from it.

So, I read it.

And I didn’t do the scene from it. I couldn’t think of any reason why I should. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I’m no longer a student of that acting teacher. Any acting teacher who touts a play like Closer obviously has very dissonant philosophies with mine.

I honestly can not understand why so many people love this play so much. It is depressing, it is boring, and I found the characters to be distinctly unlikeable. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s get to my regular format.

About the Author

The author is a masochist (obviously) by the name of Patrick Marber. He is from England (if that makes any difference to you.) Fittingly, he is a comedian when he’s not writing interminably lugubrious plays like Closer. He’s written a bunch of other plays, which I most likely will not be reading, unless somebody can give me a good enough argument. He has received praise for his directing and several awards nominations, and was Cameron Mackintosh Professor of Contemporary Theatre at Oxford University.

Why I Read

See above. I also watched the movie (starring Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Jude Law, and Clive Owen) and was equally unimpressed.

Guys, I tried. I tried so hard to get it. I just really, really, honestly and truly don’t like it.

About the Play

Closer is the story of four miserable people, two men and two women, who all end up having romantic relationships with each other and cheating on each other. It’s like the story of Fleetwood Mac, but with a much less beautifully artistic payoff.

Here’s my synopsis (major spoilers):

Dan, an obituary writer and failed novelist (already depressing), takes Alice, who is a former stripper, to the hospital after she was hit by a car. They fall in love, and Dan leaves his girlfriend for her. Dan and Alice end up at Anna’s photography show where they meet Larry, a dermatologist. Dan ends up falling in love with Anna and tries to get her to have an affair with him, but she refuses. Alice hears Dan flirting with Anna, and has a photography session with Anna. She takes a picture of Anna crying, which is apparently some big insult that I don’t understand.

Dan and Larry end up meeting each other in an adult online chat room.

Dan pretends to be Anna and he has online sex with Larry. As a joke (although I personally don’t understand what’s funny about it), Dan, as Anna, asks Larry to meet him in the aquarium the next day. He goes, and Anna ends up there (coincidentally? How did she know?) It’s Anna’s birthday, as an interesting plot twist (not.) Larry and Anna end up married. Dan and Anna start having an affair at some point. Anna has another showing, and Larry recognizes Alice from her photo. Dan and Anna talk about their affair. They all cheat on each other, Alice with Larry and Anna with Dan.

Alice finds out that Dan is cheating on her and gets upset and leaves, even though she’s been cheating on him also, so who the hell cares? She goes back to stripping and Larry finds her at the strip club. He wants to have sex with her, but she coyly refuses, but she ends up sleeping with him, as is the custom in this play.

Anna and Larry have that confrontation where he reveals that he was cheating on her, and then she tells him that she was cheating on him also, and he totally flips out at her even though he’s also been cheating, and they exchange the famous lines, “How did he taste?” “Like you but sweeter.” (No, Fall Out Boy did not come up with those lyrics in their song Uma Thurman.)

Later, Anna goes to meet Dan for dinner, but she’s late because she’s been trying to get Larry to sign divorce papers, but he won’t until she has sex with him one more time. Dan gets all upset with her and asks her why she didn’t lie to him (I don’t know what he wanted her to lie to him about, but I’m just super confused in general.) Finally it is revealed that Anna did end up having sex with him, and he signed the papers. Dan gets upset again.

In the meantime, Larry and Alice have been sleeping together.

On his birthday (birthdays seem to be some weird metaphor in this play) she gets him to go to the museum, where she’s also secretly lured Anna. Alice is watching in hiding. Anna finds out that Larry and Alice have been having an affair, and that’s when Alice conveniently pops up. The two women have this bizarre confrontation. Alice finds out from Anna that Dan still calls out for “Buster” in his sleep, which is his super romantic nickname for Alice.

Anna goes back to Larry, Larry goes to confront Dan and tell him that Anna no longer wants to be with him, and after a whole lot of unnecessary hubbub, Dan finds out that Larry has been sleeping with Alice.

Dan and Alice end up back together for some unfathomable reason and plan to go to America together. He starts interrogating her about Larry, and suddenly she falls out of love with him and doesn’t care anymore. Poof, gone. She literally says “I don’t love you anymore. Goodbye.” She tells Dan to leave, he struggles, she spits on his face, he throws her on the bed, puts his hands around her neck, she tells him to hit her, he does, and then she leaves.

Anna and Larry meet up and we find out that they have broken up and that Alice has died from being hit by a car after the whole debacle where she and Dan didn’t go to America. Larry leaves and then Dan arrives, of course, because what would this play be without more Larry/Dan confusion? Dan and Anna have a totally unnecessary conversation, he leaves for America to identify Alice’s body, and Anna is sad.

The end (finally.)

And, that’s Closer.

Final Thoughts

Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what happened in this story. Actually, scratch that – nothing happened, therefore, there was no story. There was no beginning, middle, and end. There was no dynamic, no highs or lows. The entire play the whole way through was equally disturbing. None of the characters have any redeeming qualities, and they all blend together. I was getting confused reading it because I was mixing the characters up. Each character seems to hate him or herself, and every act they do is an act of self-loathing. They are all self-saboteurs, and if not even one character is going to root for him or herself, then why should I root for any of them?

Closer is also disgustingly sexually graphic. I’m not a prude by any means, especially when it comes to art. But, sexually graphic for shock value is lazy writing, in my opinion. There are stripping scenes, there’s very explicit language, there’s obscene infidelity…. All things I can handle, if the author handles it well and tells a concise story. I do not believe it was handled well in this play.

I would like to add that I consented to do a scene from it in a later acting class.

A fellow student approached me and asked me to do the famous “how did he taste?” “like you but sweeter” scene. This was going to be a big challenge for me, and who am I to turn down a challenge? I had to work so hard to be on my character’s side. I sat at home and went through the scene over and over again for hours in an effort to not come off as a pathetic victim. But, the problem with this play is that every character is written as a pathetic victim. I was never happy with any rehearsal I did, and I had to come to terms with the fact that it was the writing and not me that was the issue.

I’m happy I read it, and I’m happy that I worked on it.

I learned a lot, despite not exactly enjoying it. It was a great lesson on how to write effective characters with arcs.

Since I did not feel that Closer had much of an arc in any sense, told any concise stories, or had affecting characters, I had to get creative and make it my own to tell a story that I found interesting. That is an invaluable lesson.

The Characters

(I don’t have great character descriptions because I couldn’t find any depth. They all seemed to be pretty shallow people, in my opinion.)

Dan

An obituary writer and failed novelist. Dates Alice and cheats on her with Anna a billion times. A guy who seems pretty intense on being super depressed.

Alice

A former stripper. Cheats on everybody in the play. Considers herself to be a super misunderstood, tortured artist.

Larry

A dermatologist. Cheats on everyone.

Anna

A photographer. Dates Larry, cheats on him with Dan.

So, that’s my take on the whole thing. What do you think? I welcome fair-minded debate, so let me have it if you think I’m a knucklehead.

Want more Plays for Players? Check out these links:

Plays for Players: You Can’t Take it With You

Plays for Players: The Foreigner

Plays for Players: Arsenic and Old Lace

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