BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
Manhattan Theatre Club stages six new shows every season, so it stands to reason that every so often they unleash a dud. Such is the wretched case with “Close Up Space,” which opened on Monday at MTC’s 299-seat theater at New York City Center.
Newcomer playwright Molly Smith Metzler’s would-be wacky comedy centers on Paul (David Hyde Pierce), a finicky book editor who copes badly with Vanessa (Rosie Perez), a tempestuous author of bestsellers, and even worse with Harper (Colby Minifie), his “hellacious” 18 year-old daughter.
Just expelled from boarding school, Harper arrives at Paul’s Manhattan office dressed for the gulag and throwing snowballs while defiantly babbling in Russian. Harper’s eccentric behavior, we later learn, is rooted in her mother’s suicide four years earlier, at which time Paul hastily packed Harper off to school.
Speaking of eccentric, let’s mention Steve (Michael Chernus), Paul’s office manager, who camps out in a tent in the office due to problems with his dog. Let’s not detail Steve’s issue further since, like so much of the 80-minute play, it’s fairly meaningless and not particularly amusing.
Although it begins promisingly, “Close Up Space” proves to be an ill-developed study of a stiff soul who may be good with words but is lousy when dealing with other people.
The characters are so unbelievably batty and their actions so absurd – somehow Harper secretly strips her dad’s office of every piece of furniture overnight – that the frail story rapidly sinks under its heavy freight of whimsy. It’s especially lamentable that the father-daughter relationship is so poorly explored.
David Hyde Pierce gives the harried Paul a professorial manner that evaporates into desperation as his troubles increase. Delightfully if improbably cast as the spitfire novelist Vanessa, Rosie Perez is a genuine live wire who electrifies her brief scenes, most notably when she fiercely declaims from “King Lear.”
The other actors, including Jessica DiGiovanni as a bewildered college intern, do ably enough by their too-quirky characters under Leigh Silverman’s smoothly-paced direction. Designer Todd Rosenthal provides a handsome setting that does not quite accommodate the script’s demands.
“Close Up Space” continues through Feb. 5 at New York City Center – Stage 1, 131 W. 55th St., New York. Call (212) 581-1212 or visit www.nycitycenter.org.