Literary Criticism and Significance
Critical response to Marber’s play was uniformly solid, with recurring ideas in both the laudatory and constructive criticism. Many critics praised Marber’s use of dialogue, particularly in the cutting way in which the characters take each other apart during their fights. They also noted his unabashed cynicism about love since none of the characters finds a happy ending. Marber was also commended for his tight structure; indeed, the scenes all fit together very neatly with very little wasted stage time.
Most of the criticism of the play was directly related to the ideas other reviewers cited as strengths. The primary note leveled against the play is that it was too antiseptic. Despite the tight structure of the writing, many found it hard to care about the characters and their largely self-inflicted pain. The male characters were cited as especially unlikeable, given the various ways they abuse Anna and Alice during the play. A New York Times review of the play compared Alice’s evaluation of Anna’s photography to the play itself.
Despite these criticisms, the play was nominated for numerous stage awards, both popular and critically-based. When the play was transformed into a 2004 film, it received additional plaudits. Unlike the stage play, the praise was mostly focused on the actors and director Mike Nichols. Several critics group singled out Natalie Portman’s performance as Alice and Clive Owen’s performance as Larry. Both were eventually nominated for Academy Awards, but tellingly, Marber was left out of the Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Since the play’s premiere in the late 1990s, it has been produced in numerous regional theatres. Its reputation is closely linked with that of other English plays with a similarly dark worldview. Marber is often grouped with Mark Ravenhill and the late Sarah Kane, who emerged during the same period. Like Marber, they earned their reputations as playwrights because of their bleak depictions. Marber has also earned comparisons to American playwright Neil LaBute. Like LaBute, Marber seems particularly focused on the bad behavior of men. Women, while more mature, often exist in his plays solely based on their relationships with men. As a result, critics have debated whether Marber is depicting misogyny in a play like Closer, or merely writing from a misogynistic point of view. This ambiguity and the divisiveness it often elicits from viewers and critics make Closer a significant play, even if the end result is difficult to enjoy.