It seemed an odd pick for NoExit's season opener: Closer, Patrick Marber's 1999 play of bad manners and bad sex, some of it facilitated by the newfangled Internet. It's already been filmed after all, by Mike Nichols in his most respectful, stagebound mode.
But there turns out to be plenty more to Closer that the film spells out, and I found myself impressed by NoExit's willingness to simply let the play speak for its stark, staccato, Pinter-meets-Coward self. Because while NoExit often makes brilliant use of puppetry, projection and other tricks of the trade, sometimes the acting leaves something to be desired, with some actors completely inhabiting their roles and others seeming not to have a clue.
That's not the case here: The four-person cast is altogether convincing, even with three actors saddled with British accents. Sam Fain's brusque dermatologist is all libido when called for, his roar echoing through the Service Center's garage bay to bring the first act to a stark close. Georgeanna Smith, as a reserved but almost well-balanced photographer, projects guilt and unsureness in a traditionally British key, the most passive of the four involved in a messy love quadrangle.
Matthew Goodrich manages to make believable his stereotypical conflicted writer, who can't seem to hold on to Lisa Ermel's stripper with a heart of gold (or coal or an empty space where her heart used to be), who kicks off the play when saved from peril by Goodrich's writer.
Does Closer rely too much on stereotypes or make the most of them by rising above them and toying with them on the stage? Like in Coward, the play has its share of deliciously witty retorts and finds a certain pleasure in rearranging its characters into new couplings and seeing how those dynamics play out. And like in Pinter, mankind is exposed for the animal species it truly is, despite all the trappings of art shows and museums and other effete pleasures. (Marber tends toward hard-boiled here: "Have you ever seen a human heart? It looks like a fist wrapped in blood!")
Tommy Lewey was quite on target by playing that symphonic pop song to induce catharsis at the close (if only because such an approach has been beaten to death by Grey's Anatomy and its ilk) — but it's quite the ride while it lasts. And the sex chat room scene, while a little outdated, is plenty hilarious.