Atlas Theatre's "Closer," now at The Box Office, is the sort of powerful production that stays with you. Director Chris Mayse's take on Patrick Marber's celebrated 1997 script is likely to have you looking back with a sigh on past intimate relationships.
Four people in contemporary London move into and out of each other's lives during a 4½-year period. When they love, they're impossible, too kind, and tunnel-visioned. When they break up, they're unspeakably cruel, and still desiring to be kind.
Mayse's big achievement is that he and his cast have gotten beneath the lines and made the dialogue a mere means to an end. When they attack one another (physically or verbally) you can feel the terrible tug-of-war between love and hate. Nothing is simplified.
The action takes place on a tiny playing area, with the audience seated on two sides. We're often within arm's reach of the performers, so that we feel like unwilling eavesdroppers.
Jessica Afton is a marvel as the self-destructive, childlike Alice. She communicates confident manipulation mixed with a psychotic fear of abandonment. She seems to be doing nothing, yet her face is so easy to read, always in the moment.
Ryan Remark is remarkable (sorry) as Dan, a cocky man who gets snapped out of his narcissism. The actor doesn't have an actor-y bone in his body. He's direct and unaffected yet tells us so much.
Alex Olson as the vengeful doctor Larry gains authority in the second act. When he goes to a strip club in a moment of self-pity, Olson conveys the torment of his character, making the scene not sensual but heartbreaking. And Breon Jenay is particularly effective when her photographer character Anna gets caught up in trying, often unsuccessfully, to make her motives understood. I've never before seen her so unself-conscious.
The lights are, unfortunately, often too glaring to allow you to comfortably watch the stage. And the tennis-game-like staging sometimes dilutes focus. But the skill behind this disturbing drama allowed one to sit there thinking, "I know these people. I've been there."
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat @aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.