David Hyde Pierce and Rosie Perez star as a exacting book editor and a prima donna author in a comic drama that could use another revision or two

By Stephan Lee
December 20, 2011 at 05:00 AM EST
Joan Marcus

The title of the new Off Broadway play Close Up Space at Off Broadway’s Manhattan Theatre Club refers to a proofreading symbol used to tighten up the gap between words. It also rather blatantly symbolizes the need for the characters to close up the emotional distance that exists between each other, or to close up the distance between what they say and what they mean. Paul (David Hyde Pierce) is a tweedy, persnickety editor at Tandem Books, a small New York City publishing house. While he lives to tear apart writers’ words until they bleed red ink, Paul’s editing skills prove worthless when it comes to fixing his messy real life: His secretary, Steve (Michael Chernus), who looks and acts like a Zach Galifianikis character, lives in a tent in the office lobby and can barely fax a document; his prize, prima donna author Vanessa Finn Adams (Rosie Perez) threatens to leave Tandem for a competitor if he doesn’t re-think his latest harsh edits; and most vexing of all, his brilliant, unhinged daughter, Harper(Colby Minifie), has just been kicked out of boarding school and returns to New York, speaking only Russian and with the apparent intention of destroying Paul?s life.

There are flashes of brilliance — even magic — in this play by Molly Smith Metzler. Most of those occur when Perez ignites her all-too-scarce scenes with a sexy, full-bodied performance. But for the most part, it’s a tonal jumble. We learn that Paul is mourning the suicide of his highly disturbed wife by ignoring reminders of her existence, including Harper. That neglect fuels Harper’s rage and defiance, and in a raw scene, Harper literally screams for Paul’s attention. It’s a moment that begs for an emotional response from the audience, but the arch, absurdist elements throughout the play negate any attempts at poignance that come toward the end. Histrionics and self-conscious humor, mostly in the form of tired jokes from stereotypical slacker-with-a-heart-of-gold Steve, distract from the emotional core of the drama. Even so, the primary conceit — an editor who can’t edit his past or present — is a bit obvious and not exactly compelling in itself. One can’t help but think that an editor as exacting as Paul would cover Metzler’s script with red scribbles and question marks. B-