Marber's characters are recognizable as both individuals and configurations (of hormones and opportunities). They're also both "people" and types—the types that people become by acting on and responding to these inveterate, self-seeking impulses. What we witness is the process by which desperate men and women archetypally turn themselves and each other into stalkers, con artists, liars, brutes, and whores, and Marber's various ways of approaching character function surprisingly well in the partner-switching plot.
The central effect of Marber's importing rough experience into a sexual roundelay is to counteract the easy-to-love sugariness of farce, to give it a less airy texture and a savory tang. Thus, in Closer the glamour doesn't quite stick to the action as it does in a Cary Grant movie such as The Awful Truth (1937) or The Philadelphia Story (1940). This isn't a fault—it's the point. Closer gives you the misbehavior of farce without the comic archetypes that allow you to accept the improbabilities of both the obstacles and their eventual resolution. And it manages to be as lightweight, flexible, and swift as farce without stripping the irresoluble anguish out of the characters' romantic entanglements.
This is the pay-off to the combination of genres—allegory, naturalism, farce, and, inevitably, irony. Closer is paradoxical high-end movie farce, glossy and yet unvarnished. As Marber said in this October 1999 interview, "The idea was always to create something that has a formal beauty into which you could shove all this anger and fury. I hoped the dramatic power of the play would rest on that tension between elegant structure—the underlying plan is that you see the first and last meeting of every couple in the play—and inelegant emotion." Marber looks at farcical giddiness with a hard-won sobriety.
Closer has a direct precursor in Arthur Schnitzler's Reigen. (Written in 1897 and privately circulated among the author's friends in 1900, Schnitzler's piece was not intended for performance and was not in fact performed publicly until 1921.) Reigen comprises ten encounters between lovers, showing them both before and after sex. One half of each pair then appears in the following scene with a new partner. The pairings give us a glimpse of every level of society: a prostitute, a soldier, and a servant up through a poet and an actress, on to the bourgeoisie and the nobility. Schnitzler trained as a doctor and had studied syphilis, and, although this is not made explicit in the text, the chain of lovers replicates the transmission of the spirochete, which recognizes no social boundaries, defers to no yearnings or honorable intentions.
Schnitzler kept a diary for 50 years until just before his death; during one part of it he recorded every orgasm, with some of his many sexual partners. Reigen thus reflects the author's findings in the field as well as in the lab. In the middle of each of the play's ten scenes, Schnitzler places a row of asterisks to indicate the elided sex act, and in the second half of most of them he captures the male's mysterious post-orgasmic change of mood better than any work I know. He was scrupulously observant of "love" as a congeries of physiological facts and whatever social forms or emotional projections the participants consider necessary or desirable.