Trouble in paradise in tense new drama ‘Closure,’ at NJ Rep

Wendie Malick and Gary Cole co-star in "Closure," which is at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch through July 19.


Wendie Malick and Gary Cole co-star in “Closure,” which is at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch through July 19.

The setting looks something like paradise, but Jane and Peter are in hell. The worst thing that could happen to them happened: Their daughter went missing during a vacation on this Caribbean island three months ago, and they don’t know if she’s dead or alive. Jane (Wendie Malick, of TV’s “Hot in Cleveland” and “Just Shoot Me!”) is all raw nerves and bitter wisecracks; Peter (Victor Verhaeghe) is trying to stay sane by focusing on his work. Jane can’t help but think he’s given up.

They’re exasperated not only with each other, but also with police detective Roy Hadley (Gary Cole, of “Veep”), who keeps saying he’s making progress in the case but doesn’t actually seem to be getting anywhere. But then he zeros in on a suspect, the seemingly benign waiter and drug dealer Ken (Biniam Tekola), and everything starts falling into place.

This drama, written by Richard Dresser and having its world premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch through July 19, is partly a police procedural, partly a psychological study of a couple under extreme duress, and maybe even a bit of a love story. As the bond between Jane and Peter weakens, she starts to feel more of a connection with Roy, who’s a bit of a mystery himself. Could they be the ones who actually have a future together?

I have to confess, I tried to figure out the way the plot was going to go — what the inevitable twists would be — and didn’t come close to getting it right. When the big twist came, I was totally surprised, and that’s a great thing for a play like this.

At the same time, though, I felt there were some weaknesses in the writing, with characters sometimes acting in ways that didn’t ring true (and no, the later twists did not explain their odd behavior). For instance, in one scene, Roy comes to Jane and Peter, late at night, saying that there has been a development in the investigation. Jane and Peter have been desperately waiting, for months, for even the slightest bit of forward progress. Yet the three of them talk about some other stuff, in quite a bit of depth, before getting to the news. That didn’t make sense at all.

(Also, this is a minor point, but Cole’s haircut is way too stylish for the hard-bitten character he’s playing.)

Still, the actors create vivid portraits of their complex characters, and director Joe Cacaci keeps things running smoothly. There’s a single set, though different portions of it represent different places — a café, Jane and Peter’s hotel room, Roy’s office — and when the action ends in one portion, it starts in another just a moment later. Similarly, the narrative focus keeps shifting back and forth, smoothly, from the investigation to the fraying marriage. Dresser also effectively adds some humorous lines along the way, to keep the dire subject matter from being too oppressive.

And by the end, yes, there is a form of closure, and it is satisfying.

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