Playwright Richard Dresser warns that audiences who come to see his new drama “Closure” at New Jersey Repertory Company “won’t ever look at their loved one the same way after they see this play.”
Inspired by the missing person case of Natalee Holloway, the Alabama teenager whose disappearance on vacation in Aruba has captivated the country and tabloid headlines since 2005, Dresser’s twelfth play focuses on the parents of a missing girl, and how the search for their daughter pushes their marriage to the brink.
“Closure” stars TV and movie mainstays Wendie Malick (“Hot In Cleveland,” “Just Shoot Me”) and Gary Cole (“Office Space,” “Talladega Nights”) and runs from June 25 through July 19.
“With all the breathless coverage of what happened [to Holloway], I never got a sense of what it was like inside the marriage,” Dresser says of the inspiration for “Closure.” “And that’s what I wanted to explore: What does it do to a marriage when tragedy strikes and it is the most relentlessly public tragedy imaginable?” Editor’s note: Natalee Holloway’s parents, Beth and Dave Holloway, divorced in 1993. Beth was married to George Twitty during the time of Natalee’s disappearance; the couple divorced in 2007.
Malick and Victor Verhaerghe play Jane and Peter, parents to the missing girl, who seek out the help of Detective Roy Hadley (Cole), a private investigator on the Caribbean island where their daughter has disappeared. Detective Hadley, whom director Joe Cacaci describes as a “lone wolf,” may have plans of his own; thus complicating an already convoluted case.
“I wanted to write about the worst thing I could imagine, which is not the death of a child but the disappearance of a child. Because every moment would be ruled by both despair and hope and it could never end until there’s a definitive answer to what happened,” Dresser says. “And that’s what ‘Closure’ is: people trapped in a state of not knowing and doing everything possible to get to the truth.”
Audiences might be more accustomed to Malick and Cole’s TV and big-screen comedy credits –both have been Emmy nominated for their comedic performances in “Just Shoot Me” and “Veep,” respectively–as opposed to this dark subject matter. But for Malick, “Closure” is a welcome change of pace.
“I was ready for a palate cleanser after wrapping up six seasons on ‘Hot in Cleveland.’ This play was just what the doctor ordered,” she says. “We had done a workshop and staged reading in the Berkshires two summers ago. It took this long to get everyone’s schedules aligned.”
“Although Wendie and Gary have an extraordinarily broad range of work to their credit, I believe audiences will be surprised by how fully they have inhabited these struggling characters,” Dresser says.
“I don’t approach a comedy any differently than a drama,” says Cole. “The object is believability and true moments.” His longtime friendship with Caraci, combined with being “hooked” by Dresser’s script, is what signed him on to the project.
Rather than shy away from the intense subject matter, both stars credit the show’s drama with fuelling their passion for the play.
“Jane is a survivor. She’s living through the worst nightmare imaginable, and fighting with everything she’s got,” Malick says of her character. “I love her pluck, her tenacity, and her humor. She is fierce. Inhabiting Jane has made me a lot feistier.”
“What [Dresser] has tapped into is how people go on and keep living through this nightmare on a daily basis. Even though it seems as if they should just give up,” Cole says.
Malick adds, “Acting is my therapy. The opportunity to inhabit this raw, furious, and desperate woman is very cathartic and quite delicious.”
Debuting a new play has been equally thrilling to the creative team as tackling the subject matter of “Closure.”
“I thrive on the sort of without-a-net nature of debuting material that’s never been seen before,” Caraci says. “The combination of exhilaration and abject fear that one feels just as the lights go down that first time is hard to beat.”
“Closure” marks a bit of a departure for Dresser, whose work usually explores economics and family drama. “I have never written a play like this,” the playwright says of his foray into mystery.
Although “Closure” will debut in New Jersey, the team rehearsed in Malick’s garage in California’s Santa Monica Mountains for two weeks.
“It was unconventional, which suited us all,” says Malick. “Working on a new play is such a blast, especially when the playwright and director are as collaborative and loose as Rick Dresser and Joe Cacaci. I wouldn’t live in a house with just any five guys,” Malick joked, referring to the rest of the cast and creative team.
“In spite of the subject matter—or perhaps because of it—this has been one of the most joyful rehearsal processes I’ve been through,” Dresser says.
For anyone wondering how a group of actors and creators could explore such a harrowing story without slipping into a deep depression, Dresser’s viewpoint is illuminating. “One of the great aspects of working in the theater is the ability to imaginatively live out the most dire scenarios without any of it touching your life.”
Dresser urges that his new play is about more than the tragic circumstances at its center; it’s a play about survival.
“’Closure’ is a mystery with many surprises and it deals with a challenging subject, but I don’t consider it dark because the characters are finding their way through a rough situation with humor and heart and whatever else keeps people from slipping over the edge.”
“Closure” opens June 25 and runs through July 19 at New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, 07740. Opening night with reception: Saturday, June 27 at 8 p.m. For tickets or more information, visit http://www.njrep.org.