October 7, 2013
I had seen a stage production of "Closer" (I actually found the ticket!) back in December 1, 2001, staged by the Actor's Actors, Inc. at the Republic of Malate. I do not recall who were the actors anymore ( I hope someone can remind me) but I recall that it had an innovative presentation. There was a square stage in the middle of the room. At each corner stood the four actors, delivering their lines facing outwards towards the audience, even if they were talking to one another.
There was also a movie version of "Closer" shown in 2004 with a stellar cast which includes Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Jude Law and Natalie Portman. This was directed by no less than Mike Nichols, who won the Oscar for Best Director for "The Graduate". He was also nominated by the Academy for his direction of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," "Silkwood," and "Working Girl". His direction of "Closer" was nominated by the Golden Globes. I have not yet seen this film version of "Closer" yet, but it does have a creditable rating according to critics and fans.
"Closer" is the story of four people. Danny is a frustrated novelist, now wallowing as a writer of obituaries. Alice is a young free-spirited stripper. Anna is a successful professional photographer. Larry is a lonely dermatologist who visits sex sites on the Internet. Their lives are intertwined in this story of love and deception, told in two acts by playwright Patrick Marber.
The set in this current Red Turnip production is quite spare, just a rectangular floor with a map of the London subway system, as the audience is close by, around the stage on three sides. The backdrop is a white wall where photos were projected to suggest the setting, like an emergency room or the aquarium.
The play started with light and funny "getting to know you" scenarios. There was even a whole silent scene that simulated a chat session on a sex website, with the hilarious conversation flashed on the wall, as the actors were typing on their laptops.
But of course, it would not all be about the pleasantries of romance. In fact, Act 1 ended with major explosive scenes occurring alternating with each other. Act 2 is a series of big confrontation scenes after the other involving one character individually with each other.
Heavily loaded words are dropped every so often by all four characters as they discuss and argue about their relationships with each other: jealousy, boredom, disappointment, mercy, selfishness, revenge, guilt, compromise, cowardice, etc.
The four actors did their best to flesh out their characters.
Bart Guingona is perfectly cast as Larry, the doctor. You can really see that he is the veteran player in this quartet. His character had the wittiest lines in the play and Bart's delivery was so good. He manages to be likable and sympathetic despite the sleazy nature of his character.
Angel Aquino was gorgeous as Anna. She was simply a riveting presence every time she was on stage. She embodied this perfect specimen of womanhood most irresistible to men. I can totally see how and why men fall obsessively in love with her. Angel in that black and white long gown during Anna's photo exhibit was an angelic vision. She was truly mesmerizing.
Cris Villonco is quite a revelation as the frank and daring stripper Alice. We know her more for her wholesome roles in various musicals, but here she had had no qualms baring some skin and spouting foul language. For sure this was the ingenue role of this show which Cris is expected to play. But this Alice was definitely no typical ingenue, and Cris nails it nevertheless.
Now about Marc Abaya in the central role of Dan. It was this character that messed up the lives of the other three, but as embodied by Abaya, his Dan was not convincing as a jerk who could literally sweep girls off their feet. Abaya did not have the right look and swagger for the part, and his benign performance could not completely overcome that deficiency. In this film, this role was played by Jude Law, so you can imagine how that would look. The performance was not bad, it just felt lacking.
Overall though, "Closer" remains to be an excellent intimate theater experience. The script by Patrick Marber is crisp and frank, with words as real as it could sound when such situations occur in actuality. The talented Filipino cast as usual transcends the cultural context of the play, and they thankfully do not need to affect fake British accents.
Kudos to director Ana Abad Santos and the rest of Red Turnip Theater crew for this brave debut production. The meet and greet after the show is also a nice touch. I must say though that the venue Whitespace is not exactly the easiest place to reach and find. I hope they can find a more accessible theater for their future productions which promise to be avant garde and edgy. I am definitely looking forward to watching more of this progressive theater group.
"Closer" runs on October 4 to 27. Fridays at 9 pm, Saturdays at 3 and 8 pm [except for October 12 - no shows], and Sundays at 3 pm, with 8 pm shows for the last 2 Sundays
Whitespace is located at 2314 Chino Roces Ave. Extension, Makati.
Tickets are available at TicketWorld [891-9999 or www.ticketworld.com.ph] and also at 215-0788 / 0917-537-8313.
Epilogue: Oct. 9, 2013
I have just finished watching the 2004 film version of "Closer" now. Since the screenplay was also written by Patrick Marber, it pretty much follows the play, almost word for word. I still freshly remember the words I just heard last Sunday in Whitespace as I was watching the video. Words do take on another meaning when someone else delivers them in their own way. It was fascinating to compare. A main difference only lay in the ending. The epilogue sequence in the play was rendered as a dramatic montage of scenes in the film, which I thought was neater. While I thought Jude Law was a better Dan than Mark Abaya, Bart Guingona was actually a better Larry than Clive Owen. Natalie Portman stood out in her role as Alice, but Cris Villonco gives the role an extra dose of vulnerability. Angel Aquino is more beautiful than Julia Roberts.