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Too Close for Comfort

2nd Flight debuts in Loudoun with edgy "Closer."

The Northern Virginia theater group 2nd Flight Productions, which has performed for years at the Kramer Center in Manassas, is staging its Loudoun debut this Friday, and it is not making a low-key entrance. For the next three weekends, the group will perform Patrick Marber’s "Closer," a raw and explicit examination of love, lust and infidelity, at Northern Virginia Community College’s (NVCC) Waddell Theater in Sterling.

"It’s very intense, and it’s very, what we call ‘for mature audiences,’" said NVCC speech and drama professor Natalie Safley, who is directing the play.

Founded by four Virginia Tech graduates, who in the words of President and co-founder Sharon Khatcheressian "were taking our second flight together," the company now puts on three to four shows per year.

"When we started, it was the four of us doing every job," says Khatcheressian, "from designing sets to selling concessions."

Safley had worked with 2nd Flight on two previous productions, and when the Kramer Center went up for sale, the group decided to use the college’s stage, taking the opportunity to perform a play that may have been a harder sell in Manassas, due to its content.

Tara Moore, a member of the troupe, had first approached Safley about putting on "Closer" before Marber had adapted the script for the 2004 movie by the same name. She said she was drawn to the play by "the way it precisely captures real emotions."

"It has extreme emotions, and it’s going to evoke feelings of pain and compassion and discomfort. It’s not a safe play," said Moore, indicating that the performance would push boundaries of both actors and audience. "It’s a play that makes you evaluate yourself and your relationships."

"For the audience to sit and watch it is going to be very, very challenging," said Safley, adding that cast members had difficulty coming to terms with some of the show’s subject matter. "They’ve developed an enormous sense of trust in each other," she said.

WITH A CAST OF FOUR, "Closer" tells the story of two couples whose relationships intersect amid a series of lies and betrayals. Safley noted that Marber’s screenplay had omitted two of the play’s scenes, perhaps "to leave the audience hanging as to what happens to the four individuals."

After months of rehearsal, Nick Nöel said he had only become comfortable with all of his character’s lines in the last week or so. Having recently moved to the country from Australia, he had started out working with a cast of strangers.

"It was interesting," said Nöel. "As similar as the U.S. and Australia are, some of the lines, I don’t have any trouble saying, and they do, and vice-versa. It makes for some very interesting rehearsals."

He said he would most relish performing the showdown between the play’s two male characters.

Faqir Qarghah plays the other male, Dan, an obituary writer from the suburbs. "Dan is a study in the pitfalls of human impulse," Qarghah said. Upon reading the script, he knew he wanted to play the part. Looking like Al Pacino in the middle parts of "Serpico," Qarghah plays the part of Dan with a half-defiant, half-resigned disposition that is as complex as the play itself.

Moore plays the part of Alice, a woman caught between two men. Moore read the script years ago, "and I just fell in love with it," she said. She soon found that reading the script and preparing to act it out are two different things. "When we did our first read-through, it was uncomfortable, to both listen to the lines and to say them," said Moore.

"I think the idea of the show is that the closer you get to people, the more you can hurt them," she said. "That in itself is a disturbing notion."

SAFLEY SAID she thought the play’s strength laid in its well-written dialogue and strong characters, and she hoped its edginess would draw a crowd.

The play is very character-driven, as the minimal sets will show. There is nothing to focus on except the actors and their words. The minimalist look appealed to the show’s director, Natalie Safely. She was nervous when first approached to direct. "Since the thought of doing the show scared me, I knew I had to do it," Safley said.

"Because it’s a play that’s not done very often and is for a certain type of audience, people might be more intrigued to show up," she said.

The show does contain some adult language and themes that serve as a window into the private side of relationships. "I’m not trying to shock anyone [with my language]," says Qarghah. "It’s more of an emotional truth that is very applicable to real life."

Moore sums the play up best when she says, "It’s about people who want to be happy, but they fail, so they have to make new choices. The closer you get, the more real it becomes, and that, I think, is the meaning of the play’s title."

Written 11 years ago, "Closer" has never been performed in Northern Virginia.

"I’m pretty excited to see what the feedback’s going to be," said Moore.