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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Aug. 1, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

Jocelyn Ridgley, Ryan Johnson, Liz Mistele and Jeremy C. Welter star in "Closer" at Off the Wall Theatre. Welter directs.

"Closer" too sexy for itself


There was one lasting image by the time the opening night of "Closer" came to an end at Off the Wall Theatre.

It was of Jack Nicholson, crew cut and a snarl on his face as he snapped, "You can't handle the truth!"

Those five words sum up the popular and oft-produced play by Patrick Marber.

None of the main characters Alice, Dan, Larry or Anna can even recognize the truth, much less handle it, even though each begs to hear the truth being told. As the wise man said: "Be careful what you wish for."

"Closer" is about Dan, who meets Alice after a car accident and falls in love with her. Then he falls in love with Anna. Then Dan and Larry have an absolutely hysterical bout of cybersex with Larry, a dermatologist being convinced that Dan is someone named Anna who embodies his every fantasy.

Eventually Larry falls in love with Anna and then with Alice and then - well, you get the point. Everybody falls in love and out of love with everyone else. Except for the fact that the men never love each other, nor do the women love each other. This is all straight sex.

And it's a lot of sex. I mean, a lot. I'm not sure the Supreme Court ever ruled on things that have this much sex, but they might have.

Once you drag yourself to the end of this play you begin to realize that the only reason anybody either breaks up or gets together is sex. Most of it is pretty straight old-fashioned sex, but with an occasional kink thrown in. We also have a stripper who takes cash in her garter.

For some reason, this play seems a lot longer than its two hour running time. Maybe it's that we get a little weary of hearing all this swearing. I mean not a single profanity seems to have dodged Marber's pen. He covers them all, again and again and again.

Somewhere in this play there is some kind of thoughtful commentary on the nature of the search for the truth and how to handle both the search and the eventual discovery.

But this production suffers from a couple of problems that prevent all four characters from being believable people who we ought to care about.

The first problem is that the play was directed by Jeremy C. Welter and it starred Jeremy C. Welter. It is a herculean task for a director to direct himself, just as it is an equally difficult task for an actor to direct a play he is in.

What happens is that there is nobody to tell the actor that he ought to try to find another way to bring his character to life. This play could have used another director to help Welter the actor find some emotion other than the most profound anguish I've seen since all those people who were sobbing when Michael Jackson died.

Nobody is as anguished for this long and I found myself begging for him to smile or frown or do something other than suffer. Too much suffering becomes boring after awhile, like begging for us to feel sorry for you.

Liz Mistele plays Alice, the stripper and the self-described "slut."

You get the feeling early on that Alice is either not all that she seems or much more than she seems. But we never get a chance to see those layers. She is either an angry tease or a giddy tease. That's it.

Mistele as a stripper in a club, complete with fishnet stockings, black camisole and roaming hands and parted legs, seems almost like a kid dressing up for Halloween. Mistele is an actor with talent, but she needs to find a way to rein in her mugging for the camera. There is no camera in live theater.

Ryan Johnson plays the suffering novelist without much surprise. He played the same part in a Sunset Playhouse production of "Stage Door" earlier this season and needs to find another role. He almost seems to be playing this part by the number.

Jocelyn Ridgley, who absolutely tore it up earlier this season in Off The Walls' brilliant production of "Trainspotting," also directed by Weller, shines in "Closer."

She clearly understands restraint and how to create a character with complexities and dynamic ebbs and flows. She is a gorgeous woman who has a subtlety that is both alluring and a little frightening. She also has the best line in the entire play, but that line is never showing up in a review I write. It's so good it's worth the price of admission just to hear her deliver it.

What we are left with is something where sex seems to be the only reason for doing anything. And most of us who are over 18 have probably come to the realization that a real relationship is much, much more than that.

This is a case where the sex just gets in the way of the truth.


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