Based on Patrick Marber’s award-winning play, Closer, which was made into a commercially successful movie in 2004, Pangdemonium! Productions’s sophomore production provides a modern update on the notion of love and romance with its unflinching take on the ugly side of personal relationships.
Directed by Tracie Pang, the play unfolds with a series of unanticipated situations that land the relationships of 4 characters caught in a muddle of passion, betrayal, deception, and, of course, love.
The play starts off with the encounter between 2 characters, Dan (Keagan Kang), an unsuccessful writer and Alice (Cynthia Lee MacQuarrie), a self-proclaimed waif, when he sends her to the hospital after a car accident. While waiting for the doctor (Larry played by Adrian Pang) to attend to Alice’s bloodied knee, they flirt and eventually fall in love.
Their whirlwind romance comes to a standstill, a year later, when Dan meets Anna (Tan Kheng Hua), a photographer during a portrait shoot for his book. He convinces her to meet him again but she rebuffs him. The romance between Larry and Anna then commence when the 2 meet due to a practical joke played by Dan. This misunderstanding ignites an attraction between Larry and Anna and they eventually become a couple. Soon after, the 4 characters engage in a sexual square dance, as desire gives way to infidelity and partners are constantly swapped.
Truth is the central theme of Closer, as it’s the one thing the quartet of characters constantly struggles with. While lies typically threaten relationships, the truth can be too unbearable. Throughout the play, one can see how the characters are caught between betrayal and desire in their pursuit for the truth.
Pangdemonium! Productions’s debut production, The Full Monty (also directed by Tracie Pang and played by Adrian Pang), was well received by the local media. With that in mind, UrbanWire had high expectations of their second production, which unfortunately were not met. Though expectations and comparisons with their prior production is inevitable, it’s also forgivable because Closer is indeed a big challenge.
Marber’s original classic was first staged in London in 1997 and won prestigious awards that include the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play in 1998 and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Foreign Play in 1999. It was later adapted into a Hollywood film in 2004 by the same name, starring Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Jude Law and Natalie Portman. Portman, who just won an Oscar for her lead turn in Black Swan, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for this role, and won the Golden Globes for it in 2005. Clive Owen did the same for these 2 awards in the category of Best Supporting Actor.
With such lofty standards to match up to, the efforts by our local actors deserve recognition. The males, in particular, outshone their female counterparts. Pang puts in a carefully nuanced performance as the loving husband who turns jealous and vengeful after a series of betrayals. Kang’s performance as Dan is also commendable, especially in a heated scene when he questions Alice’s fidelity.
The ladies, however, paled in comparison as they could have done a lot better possibly with a more consistent British accent and a stronger portrayal of the characters, particularly in some scenes when emotions of regret and confusion were shown in blank and aloof expression.
Another aspect of the production that deserves praise is the minimal yet effective use of set design and lighting, most notably in the scene when Larry and Anna first met. A sparse set up of a bench, helped by the clever use of lighting and silhouettes, evoked an impression of an aquarium.
Overall, those misses are still forgivable, because the performance in its entirety was indeed a good watch and, in this writer’s opinion, a hit.
Closer will be staged at DBS Arts Centre till March 6. Tickets are available via Sistic.