Molly Smith Metzler’s new play starts off promisingly, then rapidly goes downhill. It stars David Hyde Pierce as a book editor trying to cope with a troublemaking daughter, a demanding author and a nutty office manager. Unfortunately, only Pierce’s character is believable, and the tone ranges from broad comedy to sappy melodrama.
In the amusing opening monologue, Paul (Hyde Pierce) is copyediting a poorly written letter from the dean of a boarding school where Paul’s teenage daughter Harper (Colby Minifie) is wreaking havoc. We learn that Paul is a stuffy, exacting editor who disdains sloppy writing and that his daughter is doing her best to get kicked out of school. In fact, the dean’s letter demands (rather ungrammatically) that Paul come pick her up. Paul has no intention of doing so, noting that he is paying the school $60,000 a year to keep his exasperating daughter out of his hair.
Paul is demonstrating the need for editing to Bailey (Jessica DiGiovanni), a Vassar undergrad who is his new intern at Tandem Books. The office is run, sort of, by Steve (Michael Chernus), who has started camping out in the office in a tent because he’s not getting along with his pit bull. Steve is, as the saying goes, too cute by half. He seems like a theatrical knockoff of various characters played in movies by Jack Black.
Sadly, Steve isn’t the only annoying character in Close Up Space. Vanessa Finn Adams (Rosie Perez), Paul’s most lucrative and diva-like author, is just as exaggerated and grating. At least she gets a couple of decent lines. “What happened?” she asks of Harper. “I thought she was at Hogwarts.” It’s hard to buy Perez as an author, though, even one who churns out chick lit.
When Harper shows up she speaks only in Russian, revealing that she is as bright as she is rebellious. Later she shows her destructive side by trashing her father’s office. Somehow she removes every single item in the room. It turns out that Harper’s rage stems from the recent death of her mother. Once Harper has finally gotten Paul’s attention, Smith Metzler tries to get serious. It’s too sudden a shift from the light comedy and far-fetched situations that have come before, however. And neither the cast nor director Leigh Silverman is able to fix the play’s inconsistent tone.
The good news is that this wobbly comedy runs just 80 minutes. The bad news is that it’s a long 80 minutes.