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Sex And The (Queen) City

BareBones' Closer no tease

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Passion won out for Chad Calvert, director of BareBones Theatre Group's next production, Closer, opening this week at the Afro-Am Cultural Center. "When we were looking at shows for this season," Calvert recalls, "Jim Yost and I both found Closer independently and submitted it at the same time. And our rule when deciding who's directing shows is whoever's the most passionate about a particular piece wins." Obviously the Patrick Marber comedy wasn't difficult to find. Winner of the Olivier Award for Best New Play and the Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy of the 1997 London season ­ and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Play in 1999 ­ Closer has been produced in over 50 countries in the past five years.

A romantic quadrille exquisitely crafted for the cyberspace age, Closer detonates with a riotously obscene episode of mistaken identity over the Internet.

Yost, BBTG's founder and artistic director, didn't exactly get cheated on his end. The newly crowned CL Theatreperson of the Year will play Dan, one of the juicier comic/dramatic roles of recent years. For awhile Dan writes obits until he is inspired by Alice to write his first published novel. Things begin to spin out of control when he meets Anna, the photographer shooting Dan's portrait for the dust jacket.

Before long, Dan is pulling his hilarious online prank and Larry the dermatologist completes our quartet of faithless lovers.

"The things of substance are fairly timeless," Calvert is quick to point out. "You'll see them in any good drama or play about love and sex. It's all about desire and betrayal, the contrast between emotional love and physical love. Very often, characters will mistake lust for love and vice versa."

Mistaken identities and audacious masquerades have been comedy staples since before Shakespeare. With the advent of phone sex and cybersex, such familiar devices can be presented with a new level of credibility.

"One of the themes in the play is very much illusion and how people hide behind different identities," Calvert asserts. "The cybersex element is a very clever way that Marber has been able to introduce that common kind of mistaken identity theme in romantic comedy. There's a certain technological shorthand that has grown into our language nowadays that people understand automatically. Once the lights come up and people see two guys typing on their computers in separate rooms ­ and the guys get into their conversation ­ they'll realize very clearly what is going on."

As the pace of evolving technology accelerates, the contexts of the classics are receding rapidly. Supplying new contemporary contexts does more than refresh the old verities. It helps initiate a critical examination of newly altered realities.

BareBones has recently been involved in a couple of projects that shine new light on old classics. Calvert directed and starred in a fresh adaptation of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, opening up in the Afro-Am Attic Theatre on Halloween and eerily emphasizing the deep psychology embedded in the enigmatic ghost story. Playing all the supporting roles behind the female protagonist ­ including the roles of the avuncular narrator and the timorous housemaid Mrs. Grose ­ Calvert was responsible for all the additional absurdist layerings.

Then in January came the landmark BareBones collaboration with Chickspeare on the epic Othello-thon, including a concert reading of Shakespeare's tragedy and a full production Paula Vogel's feminist variant, Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief.

Then, lest you thought giving a new edge to the classics was the exclusive domain of Charlotte's fringe theater companies, along came Charlotte Rep with a fire-wired revival of Moliere's The Misanthrope. Suddenly those loving antagonists, Alceste and Celimene, were equipped with laptop and E-mail.

If you think, however, that BareBones is going to lavish anything like Rep's high-tech fireworks on their upcoming production, kindly rein in your expectations. BareBones will continue in the threadbare tradition that gives them their name. And they'll be following Marber's example ­ somewhat ­ when they do.

When the notorious Internet scene was first produced, the actors remained silent while their chat-room dialogue was projected behind them. But like the famed subterranean boat in Phantom of the Opera and the mating dumpsters ­ we mean the awesome barricades ­ of Les Miz, the vaunted technology sometimes broke down. So Marber transcribed the scene into actual dialogue as a hedge against techno glitches.

BareBones takes it a step further.

"We've eliminated a lot of the very high-tech things because that's not what BareBones is about," Calvert confides. "The story really is a very deep intimate look at the lives of these four strangers. And we really wanted to focus on their relationships and really bringing them to the forefront rather than rely on stage tricks. I didn't want people to come see this play and leave not talking about the emotional experience they just had or their connection with the characters."

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