Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fourth Room Theatre Breaks Into the Iowa City Scene with Closer

by Sarah Jarmon

Iowa City - I have spent the majority of my adult life dealing with relationships; my own, those that have sprung up and fallen around me, those that ought to have crumbled long before they did, and those that seem as though they will last forever. As members of the Disney generation, my fellow twenty somethings and I have been set up to fail at love from birth. Fooled by the lie of “happily ever after,” we have been particularly bruised by our own romantic ineptitude.

Fourth Room Theatre's production of Closer is like a salve to sooth those wounds. Not because it makes you feel good, this isn’t a feel good play, but because it allows you to feel as though finally someone’s willing to tell it like it is. As Larry, one of the plays two men puts it, “Thank God life ends—we'd never survive it. From Big Bang to weary shag, the history of the world. Our flesh is ferocious...our bodies will kill us...our bones will outlive us.”

This play is one of the only honest dialogues I have ever been privy to on the subject of romantic love, and as devastating as it is, one cannot help but breathe a sigh of relief that “Oh, it’s not just me. Love punishes everyone.” Director Angie Toomsen guides us through this conversation without kid gloves making neither more, nor less, of the script than it offers, letting the audience make of it what they will.

A clean stage with minimalistic set pieces and props allows us to focus on the actors who are unfailingly exquisite in their depiction of human selfishness, loveliness, and passion. The structural backdrop is the perfect scenery for this play, artfully becoming a hospital, an aquarium, a photography studio, and two different peoples’ bedrooms simultaneously through the careful placement of plain white boxes.

The shortcoming of being staged in Chait Galleries is the lack of technical flexibility. Scenes changed with an audible click when the light switch was flipped. This was slightly distracting, though happily these moments book-ended scenes, so the action flowed uninterrupted.

One scene, easily the filthiest and funniest scene in the play, was lost to some viewers on the far right side of the audience because of the technical difficulties inherent in staging an online conversation. Posts from a chat room were projected in the only viable position in the space, but nevertheless were invisible to the unfortunate few out of the line of sight. The actors in this scene were more than equal to that unfortunate situation however, upon realizing the problem they immediately began vocalizing their posts, so as not to leave anyone out of the joke.

The actors were able to do that because they were tuned in, at every moment, to what was happening around them. This is freaking breathtaking when it happens, and it almost never does. This is especially important when dealing with the kind of material this play offers.

This script, often funny, often heartbreaking, is artfully written in such a ways as to sound completely natural…if your actors are up to the task. The fact is, if put in the wrong hands this play would be plodding, painful, and slow. The characters would come off as complete jerks who don’t care about anyone but themselves. Which to some extent, they are, but only to the extent that most people are.

In the hands of this capable company, nuances were delicately realized and though the plot jumps large gaps of time between scenes, we always know where the characters are. More importantly we are able to see these people for what they are, confused, careless slaves to both their passions and the information they are given. And while it is easy to blame them for their indiscretions, it is easy to sympathize with them as well.

Ottavia De Luca is, as described, disarming as Alice, an on-again, off-again stripper with a guarded past and a cheeky disposition. It is easy to love her, this girl who scoffs at the notion of falling in love. “That's the most stupid expression in the world. 'I fell in love'—as if you had no choice. There's a moment, there's always a moment; I can do this, I can give in to this or I can resist it. I don't know when your moment was but I bet there was one.” Sexy, saucy, and determined to get what she wants, she embodies the desperate nature of young love and the incomprehensible ache of its loss.

The more mature but no less foolish Anna shows us that even once you have been burned you are no less at the mercy of your own passions. But Anna, stoically portrayed by Rachel Korach Howell, seems to be already defeated at the outset. She is strong but soft, proclaiming resistance but giving in to temptation repeatedly. When confronted she fights, but when reasoned with she relents. Howell navigates this difficult terrain with a quiet fire behind her beautiful eyes and we long for her to find what she is looking for.

The two men, Dan, played by K. Michael Moore, and Larry, delivered by Matthew James, are equally careless and tragic. Dan is, on the surface, a man who wants what he can’t have and once he gets it no longer wants it. But in reality he simply longs for perfection, a crime none of us is innocent of committing. And though his actions are often deplorable, his confliction and affection is no less evident. And when he eventually loses Alice for good, his grief is so racking that tears flowed freely from a large majority of the audience.

Larry, Anna’s husband, could be portrayed many ways, none of them flattering, but Matthew James manages to capture the redeemable pieces of this man magnificently. He is a pitiably obsessed fool who is incapable of thinking outside of himself. And yet…you want him to improve. You want him to better himself. He’s like the lecherous friend that all of your other friends hate, but you understand him, and you can’t help but want to help him.

This play is long, but well worth the twelve dollar admission. If you enjoy character driven plays with a mix of disturbing drama and wicked humor, you will love Closer. The show continues December 15, 16, 17 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12. Seating is intimate and limited so please reserve your tickets by calling/texting 319-541-0038 or email

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