Review: Closer (Mortar & Pestle Productions)

CloserMortar & Pestle Productions presents Closer on the Toronto stage

Mortar & Pestle Productions is currently presenting Patrick Marber’s play Closer at the Gerrard Art Space. With only four characters and very intimate action, the exceptionally small venue feels appropriate; it puts you into a suitably discomfiting proximity to the actors.

Set in London, the story follows two men and two women as they fall in and out of… love? Lust? Despite some very sexy and tender moments, their situation is quite muddy, bewildering and—occasionally—ugly.

Dan (Bryan Wilhelm), a failing writer, finds Alice (Olivia Jon), a much younger woman with a mysterious past, after she’s struck by a taxi. They flirt in the hospital. Skip ahead a few years and Dan meets Anna (Melissa Beveridge), a recently divorced photographer. He desires her, but she tries to brush off his advances, not wanting to break up his relationship with Alice. Enter Larry (Sean Ballantyne), a middle-aged dermatologist who meets Anna in an embarrassing prank orchestrated by the recently jilted Dan.

As the story unfolds, these four hop in and out of bed with each other. They seduce, beg, antagonize, and struggle to connect. These are intelligent and articulate people who have some very heartfelt, insightful things to say as they unload their ample baggage onto each other. Yet, despite it all, they never really get any “closer.”

The staging is minimalist: a bed, a table, some chairs. Atmosphere is created through dialogue and body language. For the most part, director Sergio Calderon and his cast are successful.

Calderon’s blocking is as fluid and natural as it can be in such a cramped space. The conceptual flourishes are particularly effective. At times, characters that exist in a separate place or time share the same physical space. These moments are crucial because they illustrate a key idea in Marber’s play: in any interaction between characters, the other characters are always an emotional and psychological presence that defines the scene.

Generally, the performances are natural and compelling throughout and allow us to identify with characters that are frequently unlikable. I was especially drawn to Melissa Beveridge and Sean Ballintyne as Anna and Larry. I felt they shared the best chemistry and most intense emotional fireworks.

Olivia Jon is great to watch while she’s in the throes of intense emotion, but when Alice is calm and casual, her movements are too deliberate and a little awkward. At the performance I saw, she didn’t seem entirely comfortable with her stage business.

The one glaring problem for me is the lighting, which I found too harsh. Granted, this is not a conventional theatrical venue with all of the attendant resources, so there are going to be significant limitations. There is only overhead track light to provide a plain white wash, but it could be dimmed a little. In a such a small space, you don’t need light at full intensity to see properly. By darkening things a little, the set’s imperfections may be less conspicuous and the atmosphere greatly enriched.

Overall, this is a solid, entertaining production of a fascinating play and well worth catching before its short run is over.

Details:

  • Closer is playing until January 28, 2017 at the Gerrard Art Space (1475 Gerrard Street East).
  • Shows run Thursday to Saturday at 8pm with Saturday matinees at 2pm.
  • Tickets are $15 at the door
  • Reserve tickets online (mortarandpestleproductions@gmail.com) or by phone (416.886.6472)

Photo of Bryan Wilhelm and Melissa Beveridge provided by the company.