Larry checks out what Alice has on offer in "Closer"

Love stinks.

You don’t need the J. Geils Band to tell you that. But why does it seem that the Internet makes it so much more fun to hurt the ones you love and love the ones that hurt you? Maybe it’s the anonymous proximity, maybe it’s the dazzling newness of social tech, or maybe it’s the mind-blowing ubiquity of porn that killed romance for Dan, Alice, Anna, and Larry in Patrick Marber’s 1997 play Closer.

Certainly, the Internet infinitely amplifies the simulacrum effect: we are not ourselves; we are only the pictures and words that represent us online. Dan is a nobody until the novel he has written about Alice’s life is published, at which point he becomes a somebody — an author. Anna takes pictures of strangers and derelict buildings. She creates beauty out of sadness, works of art from decay, true love from fantasy. Larry is a dermatologist whose appreciation of beauty is only skin deep. And Alice, the crux of the play, is the void around whom all the other characters gravitate. Her mass, like a black hole, is only visible by the stars that circle it. She appears out of nowhere to set the plot in motion, and though she is the most emotionally sincere of the four, she is also the greatest enigma – a teen runaway who has fabricated every inch of her identity. She doesn’t even recognize herself in one of Anna’s pictures. Their tragedy flows from a cynical romanticism, a yearning for reality and authenticity in others that we fear in ourselves. After all, our authentic self just might be a nasty piece of work.

The production of Closer at The Seeing Place Theater that opened last Wednesday is an entertaining take on this instant-classic of a play. The ensemble members of The Seeing Place Theater draw the plot skein into a tight net to catch their characters and expose the deep fish that swim in their collective oceans of id. Erin Cronican is pliant but aloof as the photographer Anna. Older and knowledgeable, she represents a particular kind of fantasy for Dan and Larry. Elyse Fisher, who plays Alice, is a beautiful incarnation in a role previously filled by melancholy, waifish nymphs like Natalie Portman. Her presence onstage is palpable and mysterious; her sexuality is simultaneously open and opaque – a perfect canvas on which Dan and Larry sketch their desires.

In the final analysis, however, this play is by, for, and about men. Dan (Brandon Walker) is a sneaky, sniveling “artist.” He’s the type of guy who claims he’s above mere morality because he’s sensitive and therefore special. He uses Alice’s morphological adroitness to create a novel and a persona for himself, and then he dumps her for Anna in the name of True Love. Larry (Nick Velkov) is a self-confessed caveman – a pragmatist who has only disdain for artistic types. Larry’s sexual fantasies and sexual performance are violent, red-blooded and heterosexual. He is a Sultan in his harem, one who only comprehends female sexuality as a twenty-four hour hardcore movie shoot. The two of them use the women to metaphorically fuck each other, making the viewer wonder why they don’t just get it over with and enjoy some Do Ask, Do Tell gay sex.

Dan and Larry share a moment

Mr. Walker is wonderfully unctuous, by turns endearing and revolting, as Dan. Mr. Velkov – whose accent is difficult to place, but I bet Russian – is superb as a hybrid English/Eastern European, knuckle-dragging Stanley Kowalski with a heart of gold. Both of them take the opportunity to show off well-sculpted beefcake to the audience. Their mutual antipathy is itself worth the price of admission.

There is, however, an even more compelling reason to see this play: the company is only charging $10 to enjoy an evening of live theater. In these recession strapped times it’s the best deal you can get on or off Broadway.

Through October 9th

ATA Sargent Theater

314 W. 54th Street. 4th floor