Theatre: “Closer and Closer Apart”

Uncomfortably full, Dickson and I headed to the Roxy Theatre for Eugene Strickland’s Closer and Closer Apart. Though I usually shy away from dramas, I was intrigued by both the award-winning playwright and all-star cast. I wasn’t disappointed. From the program:

“A man once renowned for his architecture can no longer recognize his own reflection. Dressed perfectly in a suit and tie, he clings to his life’s details scrawled on scraps of paper. As he proudly tries to battle Alzheimer’s Disease on his own, his children attempt to map out the future of a man who seems lost in a city he helped build. ”

The living room set was gorgeous – strikingly modern and classic at the same time. So hip it seemed that the older, retired architect looked out of place in his own home. The backbone of a bookcase was certainly the dominating feature – both in size and representation of the crumbling state of Joe’s mental organization.

Closer and Closer Apart is one of those beautifully written, character-driven plays where details are at a premium and the audience thirsts for information (e.g. tracking the timeline of the mother’s death and Melody’s move), a valley created that mirrors Joe’s own need to fill in the blanks that he cannot recall. The opening scene with Michael, frantic on his cell phone, was brief, yet incredibly revealing. This is a sign of a deft playwright.

At intermission, I turned to Dickson and commented on how James DeFelice was “acting the crap out of his role.” In the challenging character of the architect, he not only had the speech pattern and timing dead on, but everything from his shuffle to the way his shoulders hunched over conveyed the image of a proud yet fragile man. Between his mannerisms and his dated wide-lapel, double-breasted suit, buttoned just under his belly with tie astray, he bore an uncanny resemblance to the West Wing‘s Leo McGarry (which layered the character with even more history for me, though admittedly misplaced). Sue Huff (replacing the Sterling Caroline Livingstone) was surprisingly good, visibly torn between the choice of her father or her future. Julian Arnold had a smaller role than expected – a barrel of energy on stage, his character didn’t demand too much from the seasoned actor.

Though Dickson was slightly disappointed with the ambiguous, unresolved ending, I think the play ultimately accomplished what it set out to do – raise the issue of Alzheimer’s, framing it in a realistic, relatable context. Strickland mentioned in an interview printed in the program that the play provided an outlet for those affected by the disease to speak about it without having to refer to those around them. He reached this goal in spades, crafting a heartfelt, touching work about the importance of family and connection.

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