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Friday, January 20, 2012

Close Up Space (Manhattan Theatre Club)


By Harry Forbes

David Hyde Pierce is a highly adept stage actor and it’s a pleasure to watch him at full throttle in the opening moments of Molly Smith Metzler’s, alas, ultimately not very compelling play. He’s Paul, a widowed publisher whose 18-year-old daughter Harper (Colby Minifie) has been thrown out yet another school, this time for some naked rooftop shenanigans on campus.

The school has just written him about her expulsion, and Paul, red pen in hand, bitingly dissects all the errors of redundancy, syntax, and grammar in the series of letters, blithely oblivious to the disturbing content therein.

Soon after, he similarly decimates the application letter of would-be intern Bailey (Jessica DiGiovanni) whose initial assurance soon gives way to humiliation and tears. Despite all, he hires her.

These are the play’s most entertaining moments, but in short order, we’re introduced to his eccentric office manager Steve (Michael Chernus) who, unbeknownst to Paul, has been camping out in the office reception area at night in a big yellow tent. Why? Because he’s disconsolate about his beloved dog shifting affections to Steve’s roommate, and can’t bring himself to return home.

Suddenly, we’re in annoyingly absurdist territory that only escalates with the cyclonic arrival of the delinquent Harper, now defiantly spouting Russian – unintelligible to Paul -- and behaving in an alarmingly threatening manner.

There’s also Vanessa Finn Adams (Rosie Perez providing some chuckles), the firm’s best-selling author. Against all odds, both she and Steve end up bonding with Harper who, as the play’s (thankfully short) 85 minutes progress, reveals her genuine hurt at her father’s lack of empathy.

As our sympathies are so much with Paul, however, it’s difficult to feel much pity for the eccentric Harper, though the script would seem to have us do so.

The play is ultimately about communication, or lack thereof. Thus, the title refers not to “Close Up” in the cinematic sense, but the editing term that mirrors (and might conceivably fix) the metaphorical ellipsis between Paul and Harper.

All the performers are decent, and to varying degrees, appealing, including, little by little, Chernus’ initially annoying Steve.

Leigh Silverman directs a well-paced production. Todd Rosenthal’s detailed office set provides visual interest. Emily Rebholz ‘s costumes, Matt Frey’s lighting, and Jill BC Du Boff’s sound design are fine.

(Manhattan Theatre Club, New York City Center – Stage I, 131 W. 55th St., 212-581-1212 or nycitycenter.org; through January 29) Print this post

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