Close Up Space

David Hyde Pierce delivers a fine performance in Molly Smith Metzler’s intermittently engaging play about a book editor and his estranged daughter.

David Hyde Pierce in Close Up Space
(© Joan Marcus)
David Hyde Pierce in Close Up Space
(© Joan Marcus)

Tony and Emmy Award winner David Hyde Pierce delivers a fine performance in Molly Smith Metzler’s Close Up Space, being given its world premiere by Manhattan Theatre Club at New York City Center. However, the play itself is only intermittently engaging, and relies on outlandish plot devices instead of fleshing out character relationships.

Pierce portrays Paul Barrow, a book editor who has let work dominate his life, particularly following the death of his wife, a famous author. Paul is estranged from his daughter Harper (Colby Minifie), who has just been expelled from a prestigious boarding school and shows up in New York to confront her father in a most unusual fashion.

Speaking in Russian and throwing snowballs, Harper seems as mentally unstable as her mother apparently was. However, her madness may be mostly for show, as she proves capable of elaborate plans to get her father’s attention.

Pierce hilariously shows off Paul’s rather obsessive behavior and lack of good interpersonal skills. But as the play continues, he’s also able to provide subtler shadings, particularly once the character starts to talk about the circumstances surrounding his wife’s death and the reasons he’s so distant with his daughter.

Minifie has a moment towards the end of her last scene where she is also able to make a strong emotional connection. But for too much of the play, she’s required to just simply project anger and speak in Russian, which gets wearisome quickly.

Also playing a major role in the show’s plot is Paul’s office manager Steve (Michael Chernus), who has literally been camping in the office after hours. This leads to one of the most forced of the play’s narrative devices, as Steve uses his camping tent as a way to “purge” his feelings by talking about them while being unseen by the person he’s addressing.

It’s a fairly safe bet that before the play ends, the tent will be used by another character to unload in similar fashion. Steve is also depicted as something of a simpleton, and while Chernus does what he can to make this oddball character believable, his speeches and actions still come off as contrived.

Rosie Perez appears in two scenes as Vanessa, one of Paul’s most prestigious clients. She’s rather cartoonishly depicted as a tempestuous spitfire, although Perez has a good rapport with Pierce, and some of their exchanges are richly humorous.

Rounding out the cast is Jessica DiGiovanni, as Paul’s new intern, Bailey. But her impact on the story is minimal, and the actress isn’t able to do much to make her character seem interesting.

Director Leigh Silverman has made a few odd choices within the production. One of the most glaring is the way she and set designer Todd Rosenthal handle an extreme act of vandalism to Paul’s office. The platform the office is on simply rolls into the wings, without any kind of masking to hide it from the audience. And because of the sightlines in the theater, it’s very visible as the various characters react to what’s happened, and we’re all supposed to just ignore that we can see the original, non-vandalized office just a few feet away from them.

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Close Up Space

Closed: January 29, 2012