Todd Rosenthal’s split-level set for Close Up Space at Manhattan Theatre Club is a breathtaking panoramic view of a New York City editor’s office; the kind of design that makes you snap photos and ooh and ah before the show starts. Knowing ahead of time that the comedy is a mere 120 minutes long, you can’t help but wonder how the show could possibly live up to the set’s expectations. It doesn’t, sadly, but it fits perfectly into the night’s unintentional theme of underdeveloped vision.
Close Up Space starts out with a bang, as the audience gets the treat of seeing David Hyde Pierce deliver a slam-dunk monologue on the art of editing manuscripts. Like his surroundings, it tickles the audience into thinking this is going to be one fantastic ride. After we find out his estranged daughter, Harper (Colby Minifie), lives in Russia, his assistant, Steve (Michael Chernus), is camping out in the office, and his sexy-aggressive client, Vanessa (Rosie Perez), doesn’t like the way he edits, we’re left with some smooth direction by Leigh Silverman and an attraction that closes down before it gets to full speed.
Pierce is a fine actor who, for better or worse, will always be Niles Crane. When he jump-starts his body or delivers staccato tantrums, you half expect Daphne to walk on the set to arouse him. He’s firmly in control of his stage presence, which, in this case, reminds you of how much better the Frasier writing was compared to Molly Smith Metzler’s underdeveloped plot-line. Perez lights up the stage when she’s on, and her name on the marquee is like an invitation to over-size cocktails. She, too, knows exactly what she’s doing, but her character never matches Perez’s wise-ass persona. It’s like watching Velma Kelly perform “All That Jazz” in a straightjacket.
The other actors are fine in premature roles. Chernus’s Steve is plucked out of the Comedy of Quirk, a genre that’s made a splash in theater these last few years. For a realistic-ish play, the conceit of him camping out in a tent and fighting for the ownership of his Pit bull goes over about as well as snow falling from Russia—it does. (For the record, it’s a beautiful, scenic touch.)
As the daughter, I just didn’t get Minifie’s turbulent, almost supernatural character. She loots her father’s office, she’s in Russia and she’s here, she’s like the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but without a translation. There’s also an intern, Jessica DiGiovanni, who over-jumps and over-giggles to compensate for lack of character. Whereas Craig Lucas might have made beautiful black irony out of these damaged goods, Metzler tries to place them in straightforward context. She’s on her way with this story, but it’s still a draft.
Much of the disappointment from Close Up Space comes from the theater lover in all of us. The set, the actors, the anticipation that we’re about to see something come alive; it’s why we’re all seated and hushed and forced to turn off our phones in the first place. The audience is willing, and wants to go the distance. Unfortunately, this play never quite matches our imagination.
For tickets and information, visit Manhattan Theatre Club. Photo of David Hyde Pierce: Joan Marcus.
Grading the Audience: Toussaint Takes on the Crowd
Manhattan Theater Club, Saturday, 8 p.m. performance.
The crowd, like most you find at MTC, was terrific. Cell phones were promptly turned off before the show started, and you only heard voices from the audience when they were laughing. These patrons should occupy Hugh Jackman’s theater and demand fair and equal audiences.