Queens Gazette

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"CHANGE PARTNERS": The Irving Berlin song, written by the master tunesmith for the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers 1938 movie "Carefree" would provide the perfect title for the new play "Closer," written and directed by Patrick Marber, which has been playing to near capacity houses at the Music Box Theatre (once owned by Berlin and home to many of his musicals), where it opened Mar. 25th to mostly affirmative reviews. Liz Smith called it "one of the most powerful plays of this decade!" and the New York Post said it was "a smart, sexy and sublimely funny play about desire and love." Produced by the Royal National Theatre, it was the recipient of England’s prestigious Olivier award for Best New Play. In New York, it was Tony-nominated for Best Play, finishing a close second to "Side Man," but also garnered the N.Y. Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Play. Not a bad record for the second play by a novice playwright whose subject matter is illicit, rampant sexual activity by four young people who love to change partners.

These four partner changers are respectively, Dan (Rupert Graves), an aspiring novelist and an active writer of newspaper obituaries, who meets the younger Alice (beautiful and adorable Anna Friel) when she is injured in a taxi accident and he accompanies her to the hospital; Anna (Polly Draper), a world-weary magazine photographer, and Larry (Ciaran Hinds), a doctor who treats Anna’s injured leg in the hospital. At this point, Alice and Dan are a couple, as are Larry and Anna, but neither is bound irrevocably, which soon becomes evident. It doesn’t take long for Dan to inform Alice that he and Anna are in love, leaving Alice no choice but to confess she has the same feeling for Larry, who in turn humiliates Anna by asking for the sexual details of her lovemaking with Dan. The dialogue throughout these scenes is sexually explicit with more use of the f-word than seems necessary. The play’s sexual frankness is startling, and makes the older listener remember the days of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia when such words could not be heard on a Broadway stage. But none of it is unredeemingly coarse and most of it is funny. The play includes a hilarious cyberspace chat room scene in which Dan, pretending to be Anna, suggests a meeting. Of course, the real Anna shows up.

Until very recently, Anna was played by English actress Natasha Richardson. Her departure and replacement by American Polly Draper has caused some changes in the play, according to this past Friday’s New York Times. Formerly a Brit with a troubled past, Anna is now an expatriate American, also with a troubled past. The previous Anna (Richardson)dismissed a lover’s statement as "Romantic tosh." Now the new Anna (Draper) declares, "You’re just romanticizing."

RECOMMENDED: The John Travolta movie, "The General’s Daughter," which has been pulling them in for the past 10 days at the College Point Twelveplex Cinemas, Flushing’s Main Street Cinemas and the United Artist Bayside Quad. Reason: it’s the year’s first suspense thriller that manages to entertain you while also keeping you on the edge of your seat. Army investigator Travolta and old flame Madeleine Stowe team up to solve the murder of a respected general’s daughter, and the more they investigate, the kinkier the case gets. Episodes of sexual violence lead to an unexpected surprise ending which I am bound by the critics’ code not to reveal, but if you say, "the butler did it," you won’t be far wrong. Travolta looks somewhat fatigued at the end, which may be because he carries the film most of the way, as per his usual custom.

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