Larry the dermatologist delivers one of the best lines in Patrick Marber's Closer when he says, "Thank God life ends. We'd never survive it."
Oh, the pain of relationships.
But there's also something poignant about that sentiment after watching a play with several scenes of couples cheating, lying, playing mind games and always wishing for what they don't have. It's exhausting. You want the play to end eventually. But then again, the Montana Actors' Theatre puts on a version that only teeters on the brink of being too much to bear. Yelling matches, viciousness and deceit (self and otherwise) often render the characters unlikable. But in this play about four people who become intertwined in each other's lives—driven by loneliness, lust, desire for love—MAT's production, directed by Deborah Voss, takes heed of the tender moments and strong personalities of the characters and makes it breathe.
Alice (Hannah Paton) bites into a stranger's apple and, in doing so, commits herself to loving him. Anna (Kristen M. Beckmann) first meets Larry at the aquarium through a chat room mix-up and delivers the kind of beaming laughter that turns his humiliation into something endearing. Daniel (Brandon Johnson) is harder to love—not much charm, more cowardly than the rest—but he does have moments of earnestness when he thinks he's in love. And, finally, Larry (Matt Warner) pulls off the wayward doctor with plenty of faults but whose nice guy charm makes you want to protect him from the lies he's about to discover and that will lead to his hateful fury.
No one, however, is protected in this play. It's one big hurtful mess most of the time, with enough hardcore swearing and sex talk to make the whole cast of "Deadwood" blush. But it's lively. I loved the way Paton plays the cheeky, cockney-accented Alice, who is both fragile and strong—whether she's perusing art at a gallery or stripping at a club. Beckmann does an enormous job smiling with sad eyes, and she portrays her self-hatred with deft nuance. All of them are pretty good at that.
So, when it's over, you're glad. You wanted it to end. But it can be funny and it can be utterly devastating in little moments that make it keenly bittersweet, even if the characters seem far flung from your own world. It's worth seeing for that.
Closer continues at the Crystal Theatre tonight, Friday, Jan. 22 and Sat. Jan. 23, and Wed., Jan. 27 through Sat., Jan. 30 at 7:30 nightly. $10/$15 Fri. and Sat.