Near the end of Patrick Marber's play, "Closer," the character of a doctor says: "Ever seen a human heart? It looks like a fist wrapped in blood."
British playwright Patrick Marber's vicious expose of sex and longing at the end of the last millennium treats relationships as blood sport. Receiving a commendable Baltimore premiere at Fell's Point Corner Theatre, "Closer" focuses on two men and two women who connect, disconnect, reconnect with different partners and ultimately disconnect again.
It's anything but pretty, and though there are plenty of steamy offstage entanglements during the four-and-a-half years in which the action takes place, love rarely enters the mix. Instead of romance, this is a play about possession, jealousy, betrayal and manipulation.
"I had a choice and I chose to be selfish," says one character, summing up the primary motivation of everyone on stage. But self-absorbed as these four may be, they exert an unmistakable pull on an audience - a combination of fascination and revulsion, stemming from Marber's razor-sharp dialogue and witty dramatic structure, talents perhaps honed during his former career as a stand-up comic.
In the cleverest scene (which had some technical glitches opening night), the two men engage in a round of anonymous computer sex, with one pretending to be a woman, and their e-mail chat is projected on a large screen. It's the evening's funniest exchange, but typically, we are laughing at - not with - the characters.
Although all four are predators, they display different levels of maliciousness. And despite diverse occupations - dermatologist, stripper, photographer and obituary writer - all are in the skin trade to one degree or another.
Cruelest of the cruel is the obit writer, a failed novelist named Dan, played by Ben Thomas with cold-blooded intensity that would seem impossible to top - until he does just that, a mere shift in his expression subtly hardening his face to near-inhuman proportions. Unfortunately, the character who becomes pathologically attached to him is the play's most vulnerable. (As the young stripper Alice, Lydia Lea Real delivers the production's only uneven performance.)
Then there's the supposedly more mature duo - the dermatologist, Larry, played by Mark E. Campion with the arrogant bravado this actor conveys so well, and Anna, the photographer, depicted by Cherie Weinert as a woman with a heart as steely as one of her cameras. The phrase "British reserve" has no bearing on this foursome, who cannot leave a savage sentiment unsaid.
As was the case in the original London and New York productions, after various props and pieces of furniture have served their purpose, they are piled at the back of the set like so much garbage from throw-away lives. Director Barry Feinstein's staging accentuates this notion in several instances. In one case, a stagehand removing props also has to lead bereft Larry off stage after a particularly harsh encounter.
Dan, Alice, Larry and Anna use each other up and end up being discarded themselves. It's not pleasant to watch, but an audience can take some comfort in the fact that it's intended as satire. The characters are exaggerations - at least I hope so - whose behavior is an icy commentary on the dangers of mistaking physical intimacy for emotional closeness.
Show times at Fell's Point Corner, 251 S. Ann St., are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through April 8. Tickets are $11 and $12. Call 410-276-7837.
Baltimore theaters usually don't crop up among the nominations for Washington's Helen Hayes Awards, but the list announced Monday included three nominations for Everyman Theatre's 2000 production of "The Glass Menagerie." The show was eligible because it was co-produced by Round House Theatre in Silver Spring, where it was presented immediately after its Baltimore run.
Besides being nominated for Outstanding Resident Play, the director, Donald Hicken and star Tana Hicken, were also nominated. They are married and live in Baltimore, where Donald heads the drama department at the Baltimore School for the Arts and Tana is a member of Everyman's resident company. The awards, which honor professional productions in the Washington metropolitan area, will be presented May 7.
Performing Arts Productions has extended "Late Nite Catechism" for a third time. The engagement at F. Scott Black's Theatre, 100 E. Chesapeake Ave., Towson, will now continue through May 20. Tickets to the one-woman comedy are $19.50-$32.50. Show times vary. For dates and times, call 410-481-7328.
"Snoopy -- The Musical," which was to have been presented at 3 p.m. March 31 at the Mechanic Theatre, has been canceled. For ticket refunds, call 410-825-5199.
Lorenzo's Timonium Dinner Theatre. Experienced singers and dancers, ages 50 and older, needed for "Seniors Follies." Auditions at 7 p.m. Monday at the theater, 9603 Deereco Road. Call 410-560-1113.