Adrienne Wilkinson Official Website

"Closer" Review

The Hollywood Stages Theater's production of Closer captures four players' lives as they intersect, entangle, tear apart and blindly forge ahead into strange, sensual, often familiar patterns. While their lives are not exactly the norm, the characters behave as if nothing could be more normal. Their pursuit of love, sex and inevitable answers, drives this production to its heartbreaking end result. It provides a fascinating peek into the search for intimacy in relationships, the good and bad effects our actions and emotions can have and the trail of destruction we leave in our wake as we search for a way to be closer.

Director Ken Lerner delivers a breakthrough production of the Patrick Marber play by casting four eager, talented actors who convey the sometimes dark, sometimes humorous, always insightful material with grace and certainty. The original location of the play was changed from London to San Francisco, and the gritty, often sensitive material was played with wrenching perfection. The four actors bring Closer to a small stage but their talent and enthusiasm make the performance larger than life and quite hard to forget.

Jeremy Robinson plays Dan, an obituary writer, as both a lovable everyman and possible knight in shining armor, who later becomes the lying, cheating man all women love to hate. Yet, Robinson manages to bring humanity to a character that becomes less likable with each scene. The actor uses his ready appeal through the first scene, in which Dan meets stripper Alice, played remarkably by Adrienne Wilkinson, over an accident that has sent her to the ER. We briefly meet Larry, played by Cazimir Milostan, a doctor who takes a look at Alice's bloody leg. The character of Anna, the photographer who takes Dan's photo for a book jacket and is attracted to him despite his relationship with irrepressible Alice, is played openly and accessibly by Sandy Cevallos, rounding out the impressive cast.

Cevallos and Milostan, both fabulous actors, are at their best when sharing scenes. Larry seems at first to be a pompous ass, and Milostan manages to convey this without making the character unlikable. There is charm in the way he portrays a complicated character whose need and rage later builds into a powerful scene of mutual betrayal with Anna. Sandy Cevallos provides a wrenching vision of guilt and yearning as Anna tries desperately to find the relationship she deserves. The actress shares an emotional scene with Milostan's Larry, now Anna's husband, when we learn that Anna has been having an affair with Dan and that Larry has slept with a prostitute while away on a business trip. The hostility is palatable as the two actors run the gamut of emotions, ending with such a raw pain that it is almost hard to watch. Milostan plays Larry as a fallible human, a character not exactly lovable but who wants to be loved and who is saved by the empathy the actor conveys. Cevallos manages to allow her character to be seen as flawed, and unsure of her actions, not an easy thing for many actors. We like Anna, we see her need and accordingly, we feel for her. Another actress might not pull this off, but Cevallos' skilled delivery brings Anna alive and makes the audience want to protect her from Larry's well deserved rage. The casting here, of all four characters, is as close to perfection as a production can get. As the audience follows the characters lives, we can't help but identify a bit with each of them as they fall into a tangled web of love, betrayal and deceit, and ultimately, for more than one character, the death of hope, and hope of death.

The breakout performance is definitely Adrienne Wilkinson as Alice, the waiflike stripper, whose life soon becomes the center of the play. Wilkinson's portrayal of Alice is remarkable. She makes the most difficult role in the play seem effortless. This no-holds barred actress gives her all to Alice, the wonderfully wild mass of contradictions- a sexually charged, thrill-a-minute young woman, in the same body as a sad, confused girl with a pragmatic view on life and love, and a lesson to be learned if only those around her paid attention. Alice appears to be the only character that is making her choices with her heart, and the only one who doesn't vindictively attack her own happiness and relationships. Wilkinson's inflections, body movements and impressive emotional range convey a troubled girl who only wants to love, and there's no doubt that Alice does love, whether or not she is being loved in return. The most memorable lines are Alice's, perhaps due to Wilkinson's perfect timing and flawless delivery. As she strips for Larry, the comedic delivery of a simple line by Wilkinson ("Thank-you!";) allows the audience to escape the raw sexuality and awkwardness they might be feeling at such an exposed moment.

In an early scene, Alice, having overheard her boyfriend, Dan, make a pass at photographer Anna, requests a photo of herself. Cevallos plays Anna as obviously uncomfortable yet almost as intrigued as Dan by Alice's somewhat exposed soul. Later, at a showing of Anna's work, we see a striking photo of Alice hanging in the gallery. It is not lost on the audience that both Dan and Anna have used Alice as their muse. Yet Alice, though younger, is the wise one as Wilkinson portrays brilliantly with a bitter delivery of a wonderfully written line. She is honest when she says, "It's a lie. A bunch of sad strangers photographed beautifully. The people in the photos are sad and alone but the pictures make the world seem beautiful. So, the exhibition is reassuring, which makes it a lie, and everyone loves a Big Fat Lie'."; This line lays out more of Alice's life than the book or photo ever could. We are left to wonder if Doctor Larry picked up on that not so subtle clue to Alice's ever-changing life story.

In the opening scene, when describing how she crossed a busy street, she said, "I never look."; Alice, while taking center stage as the character you love to watch, leaves many clues about her life throughout the play. She becomes the character you can't wait to see, the important center piece of a strange puzzle you want to solve. She is the conscious of the story, the character we identify with and cheer on. When her relationship with Dan ends, we are as hurt and betrayed as she is. When she returns to stripping, Alice is once again vulnerable, but we know that she is in charge. As the now-slimy Dr. Larry bribes her with cash, Alice never misses a beat. Exposed, and vulnerable, both physically and emotionally, Wilkinson portrays a strong woman who knows exactly what is going on and who is in charge.

The second act brings both Wilkinson's Alice and Robinson's Dan an amazing scene. Reunited after Dan's affair, Alice is using her stripping money to take them on vacation. Dan, having learned that Larry and Alice spent the night together, uses every trick in the book to get Alice to admit it. He doesn't want to punish her, but rather to hear the truth from her. Wilkinson is alive in this scene, vacillating between the lovable sexy young girl we know and love and a wise, suspicious and guarded woman. As Alice finally admits her affair, we see Robinson's obvious relief and believe there will be a happy ending. But Alice is nothing if not full of contradictions, and she tells Dan that their relationship is over, that she doesn't love him anymore. Wilkinson plays her final scene with an open heart, reminding us of Alice's statement in the first scene when she says she leaves her boyfriends when she stops loving them. The audience is as surprised as Dan is, but the actress's tough, no-nonsense delivery is dead on. Her face is hard as she tells Dan she no longer loves him and her determination is apparent.

The final scene is perfection. We get to see Cevallos and Milostan share the stage one last time, and they don't disappoint. The chemistry between these actors is one of ease and light humor. While they've gathered to meet Dan for a sad occasion, the former couple still banter back and forth, while maintaining a sense of sadness. When Dan finally arrives, we see Robinson at his best. He has come to relay information about Alice's death. On his way to New York, Dan tells the stunned characters that Alice died as she crossed a street in New York City. Robinson really lets go in this scene, and his performance is heart wrenching. We're able to forgive Dan for cheating on Alice because we can see how much he truly loved her. The actor is not afraid to show emotion and the scene is better for it. In fact, as audience members, we feel vindicated for Alice, as Dan really did love her. His lying, cheating and general bad behavior is forgotten as he wipes his eyes, realizing that he has lost the love of his life. This scene belongs to Robinson, and the actor deserves accolades for allowing his feelings to transcend the moment, reminding us of Alice while still garnering compassion for Dan.

The Stages Theater production in Hollywood, played months before the film of the popular play was released, and it's truly a shame that so much was changed. So much was lost in translation, especially an important sub-plot involving Alice's scar. Throughout the play we hear several creative stories about Alice's scar and how she got it. In a scene between Dan and Dr. Larry, we learn that Alice is a "cutter";, just another piece of the puzzle that makes up the character. In the film it isn't mentioned. It goes without saying that the ending of the film differs largely from the play. Alice, who we now know is really named Jane, doesn't die in the film, but continues her practice of crossing streets without looking. It certainly takes away from the film, because Alice's many character traits are central to the plot and her death reverberates throughout the final scene, affecting each character in a different way.

I'm happy to say I saw the better version in Ken Lerner's production. He should be commended for producing a difficult play with complex characters and an amazing cast.

As fast-paced as the action got watching the characters get together, break up, find other partners, reunite, fight, and start again, the one line that sticks with me (other than Wilkinson's "Thank-you!";) is a line that says a lot about Alice. While quoting Dan's book about Alice, Anna recites the line, "She had one entry in her address book. Ours, under 'h' for 'home'."; That says a lot about the character of Alice, but also Dan, who took note of it, and Anna, who quoted it.

This play was about four characters that begin at a seemingly good place in their lives and took the audience with them through love, sex, betrayal, mysteries, entanglements, and eventually, death, ending in a place they could never have imagined. They're worse for the wear, and a bit stunned by life's path and cruel irony. It was an amazing play, a superb production and a delight to watch. I would hope to see these actors again soon, for they all brought out the very best, and worst, in not just the characters, but life, itself. Closer was a cautionary tale, a play that one could learn from, but inevitably, pure entertainment. This production took the material, and through four impressive actors we were able to laugh, cry and get angry as we related to the characters, whether we admit it openly or not. The irony, as obvious in the title, was that the characters were never really able to get close. That's reality. A good play will have you leaving with questions in your mind; I left this play with an entire exam bouncing in my brain. A positively grand production, I hope to see more of these actors and this director in the future.