ReAct Theatre at Bathhouse Theatre

7912 Green Lake Drive N, 364-3283. $6-$12.

Through Sept 1.

Funny but not quite comedy, wrenching but not quite tragedy, Patrick Marber's Closer sits squarely in the "urbane, contemporary drama" genre, smartly and brutally documenting the ongoing jolts of love and lust in the lives of two thirtysomething couples. "When you're in your early twenties, your love life seems to explode every 20 minutes or so," the British playwright says. "By the time you've reached your thirties, it's every five or 10 years."

In Closer, a series of accidents leads Dan, a journalist, to meet Alice, a stripper. Dan and Alice then encounter Anna, a photographer, and, in a very funny scene, Dan "meets" Larry, a doctor, by posing as a randy Anna in an Internet chat room. Playfully, Dan pranks Larry into a public rendezvous with the oblivious Anna for a little slap-and-tickle--the first of Closer's many wickedly embarrassing moments.

While the whole thing may smack of the gratuitous intricacy of a soap opera, the play itself is anything but gratuitous. Finely tuned and well composed, Closer is an ugly mess of jealousy, passion, cheating, and cussing that is, fundamentally, about distance and deception. The characters fall into and out of each other's lives and beds as playwright Marber explores the contours of chasms in relationships, and the trouble wrought by the tongue. And the glance. And the gonads.

It's a wonderful piece of theater, with dense but unpretentious language, vicious one-liners, complex characters, and lots of raunch and rough emotional play. ReAct's production is an adequate theatrical rendering, neither standing in the text's way nor giving it much life. During the lovers' shouting matches (there are several), when it's easy to lose oneself in the moment, the actors do. But the subtler, quieter scenes lack the carefully strung tension that makes the play itself so effective.

To be fair, Closer demands a particularly rigorous level of down-and-dirty emotional intensity. This was an ambitious choice for ReAct, and not an entirely successful one; but Closer's Seattle premiere is worth seeing, even if the text buoys the acting instead of vice versa.

by Brendan Kiley