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Paulanne Simmons

"Close Up Space" Explores the Absurd

"Close Up Space"
Directed by Leigh Silverman
Manhattan Theatre Club
New York City Center Stage
131 West 55th Street
Opened Dec. 19, 2011
Tues. and Wed, at 7pm, Thurs.- Sat. 8pm, 2pm matinees on Wed., Sat. and Sunday
Tickets: $80 (212) 581-1212 or manhattantheatreclub.com
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Jan. 10, 2012

Michael Chernus in "Close Up Space". Photo by Joan Marcus.

In printing, "close up space" means eliminate spaces between letters or words. In life it can mean to get closer to those we care about. In Molly Smith Metzler’s new play it means both.

Paul (David Hyde Pierce) is a book editor who seems to take a ruthless delight in tearing apart other peoples’ writing, as is amply shown in a somewhat overlong opening scene. He is a man ruled by intellect and uncomfortable with emotion. Unfortunately, he is surrounded by people who are nothing but emotion.

His office manager, Steve (Michael Chernus) is a latter-day hippie who is deeply wounded by the unfaithfulness of his dog. His most profitable writer, Vanessa Finn Adams (Rosie Perez), is well-known for "chick-lit" books that appeal to a female sensibility. And his daughter, Harper (Colby Minifie), has retreated into her own world as a result of the emotional overload occasioned by her mother’s death. There’s also a clueless intern, Bailey (Jessica DiGiovaanni), who doesn’t need to be in the play.

All these characters are rendered with the broad stoke of farce that may confuse or turn some people off. Steve sets up a pup tent in the office and asks Paul to hold his hand while he vents. Vanessa has mood swings that make your girlfriend from hell seem stable. She wields Shakespearean prose as a weapon. Harper whirls into her father’s office waving a mini flag and speaking Russian.

Jessica DiGiovanni, David Hyde Pierce, Michael Chernus in "Close Up Space". Photo by Joan Marcus.

But by the end of the show all this absurdity somehow makes sense. Harper does indeed feel that her father, whose insensitivity she blames for her mother’s death, has abandoned her in a foreign land. Banished to a boarding school and unable to get her father’s attention, she must resort to drastic tactics that leave him stripped of all his defenses.

All those weirdos surrounding Paul are trying to teach Paul a valuable lesson about life and love. His alienation is so great it can only be reached through absurdity. While director Leigh Silverman may allow his actors to engage in a bit of self-indulgence, that does seem indicated by the script, and he certainly keeps the comedy moving at a brisk pace.

With MTC’s traditional attention to set, sound and costume design, particularly excellent performances turned in by Perez and Minifie (who should win an Obie for the best scream ever produced on stage) and and ending that is both satisfying and moving, "Close Up Space" will work for all those willing to keep an open mind until the lights go out.

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