‘Closer:’ Truth or dare

Rome Jorge
Red Turnip stages Patrick Marber's straight adult play for their initial offering

GREAT MIX. Marc Abaya, Angel Aquino, Cris Villonco and Bart Guingona star in 'Closer.' Photos by Jojit Lorenzo courtesy of Red Turnip

MANILA, Philippines – Chemistry — without this between two actors, no story about love and desire [be it Jane Austen’s victorian dramas; cloyingly cutesy Korean telenovelas; formulaic Hollywood romantic comedies; or the dangerous field of taboos explored by “Lolita,” “Dangerous Liaisons” and “Le Ronde”] is worth watching.

Even with the most talented of thespians, the smartest of scripts or the most truthful of stories, with no chemistry between the two actors playing lovers, audiences will not believe, will not be moved and will not care.

One either has it or one doesn’t. No amount of music lighting, or any sort of theatrical wizardry, cinematic technique or literary device can substitute for that spark between two actors. It has little to do with actual desire or even real-life gender. It is a connection that can neither be concealed nor contrived.

That bristling electricity, that exudative heat, that telepathic empathy says more than any word or motion.

Red Turnip‘s staging of “Closer” possesses chemistry and so much more. Its volatile mix of theater ingénues and seasoned thespians produces beguiling and riveting performances.

Red Turnip: New species of theater

Directed by Red Turnip co-founder and acclaimed actor Ana Abad Santos, “Closer” pairs seasoned theater thespians Bart Guingona and Cris Villonco with television and film stars Angel Aquino and Marc Abaya, both of whom make their theater debut with this play.

READ: Red Turnip’s ‘Closer’ opens Oct 4

Watch the trailer by filmmaker Marie Jamora:

To exude the play’s setting of modern-day London and to take advantage of Whitespace’s open performance area, Red Turnip enlisted the talents of Raven Ong for costumes, Gino Gonzales for set design, John Batalla for lighting design and Jethro Joaquin for sound design.

Wise choices

Many know “Closer,” the play authored by Patrick Marber first performed in 1997, through its cinematic adaptation starring Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, Jude Law and Clive Owen, directed by Mike Nichols. [The play’s many immortal lines have also inspired several hit songs from contemporary rock bands such as Panic at the Disco’s “Lying Is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off” and Fall Out Boy’s “Thnks fr th Mmrs” that borrows the play’s double entendre, “He tastes like you, only sweeter,” for its own lyrics.]

Familiarity with the mainstream blockbuster film [as well as the rock songs] is sure to draw audiences. How the original play’s ending diverges from the film will be a pleasant surprise to many as well.

Red Turnip’s choice of material is savvy. This adult drama straight play sets it apart from the bevy of family-oriented musicals offered this holiday season. The play is compact, involving a small cast and simple production, making it ideally suited for this upstart theater company’s maiden offering.

Most important of all, the material is simply excellent. Marber’s witty yet insightful dialogue possesses an abundance of unforgettable lines. His characterization and narrative of how lovers behave is truthful.

In his story, British obituary writer Daniel Woolf, American stripper Alice Ayres, British dermatologist Larry Gray and American photographer Anna Cameron cross paths, fall in love, betray one another, and use both sex and truth as means of revenge. The play’s exploration of illicit love’s paradox — that to act upon the truth of one’s heart necessitates deceiving others — is riveting and yet almost too painfully honest to watch.

The choice of performance venue is also wise. The intimate confines of Whitespace suits the intense drama. However, it is not purpose-built for theater. Instead, the performance is done in the round with the audiences hemming 3 sides of a stage that is neither elevated nor partitioned by curtains. This makes for more challenging blocking and lighting.

WISE BUT CHALLENGING. The London Underground map is printed on the stage where 'Closer' is performed. All succeeding photos courtesy of Toots Tolentino

At times, depending on one’s vantage, the lighting can be glaring to one’s eye and the actors can be facing away at crucial scenes. The performance area is delineated by a tarpaulin print of London’s iconic Underground map. The backdrop serves a crucial function as the screen upon which photographs taken by the character Anna as well as changes in setting are projected upon.

FROM SCREEN TO STAGE. Marc Abaya as British obituary writer Daniel Woolf

The pairing of acclaimed theater actors with famous television and film stars — all of whom have garnered acclaim in their respective mediums — is also very savvy. Aquino and Abaya acquit themselves with laudable breakthrough performances as Anna and Dan, respectively. This should encourage them to take more roles in theater. They do shine brilliantly on stage, not just for their celebrity status.

LAUDABLE. Angel Aquino as American photographer Anna Cameron

Nonetheless, when sharing the stage with seasoned theater actors such as Guingona and Villonco, the contrast is appreciable. Both Guingona and Villonco fiercely yet effortlessly possess their characters and magnetize audiences even when they say not a word. And when they do speak and move, each possesses meaning and measure; nothing is superfluous or perfunctory.

Guingona, the most veteran in the cast, knows his role well, having cast himself as Larry in a previous production of “Closer” that he directed. He strides and thunders on stage like the wronged man that Larry is. You feel his indignation, his heartache and his vindictiveness.

IT BECOMES HER. Cris Villonco as American stripper Alice Ayres shares a scene with Abaya

Most refreshing is Villonco, who transcends her long-time image of wholesome television matinee ingénue to become the brutally honest yet enigmatic, fragile yet fierce stripper who calls herself Alice. [One also couldn’t help but notice that the wig, stockings, boots and jacket worn to become Alice in the play’s initial scene flatter Villonco so well, the look could become her makeover in real life.] Villonco truly transforms herself with superb acting.

ELECTRIC. Angel Aquino and Cris Villonco confront each other as Anna Cameron and Alice Ayres

Ultimately, the most important criterium for any genre involving love and desire is the chemistry between the characters. All these actors have it, the most potent of which is that chemistry between Villonco and Aquino. Every time they share the scene together, the electricity is palpable.

Beyond the genius of the script, so much is said by both Villonco and Aquino without words. – Rappler.com

‘Closer’ runs until October 27 on Fridays at 9pm, Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm [except for October 12], and Sundays at 3pm with 8pm shows for the last two Sundays at Whitespace, 2314 Chino Roces Avenue Extension, Makati City.

For ticket information, call 891-9999, 215-0788 or 0917-5378313. Visit www.ticketworld.com.ph and the Red Turnip Theater Facebook page.

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