I was never a TV sitcom fan, and missed Frazier altogether. Nor did I make it to Broadway to see Spamalot, or La Bete, or Curtains …all of which were vehicles, of course, for David Hyde Pierce, a decidedly impressive actor. So I come late to him as a fan, and I was mightily impressed with his on-the-mark deadpan comic timing and dry delivery in Close Up Space. This will not be news to those familiar with his character of Niles on Frazier (which actually turned up in today’s crossword puzzle). In this outing at the City Center, his opening 10-minute monologue is crammed with subtle hilarious takes, a calm actor confidence, and loads of just plain know-how. Sadly, however, having to endure the rest of the play was not adequate compensation. Neither he nor the feisty little Rosie Perez can rescue this clunker. Both are wasted here. Happily, it didn’t take more than 80 or so minutes out of my lifetime. Apparently critics and audiences agree with me, as it only opened in mid-December, and it’s mercifully scheduled to close on Feb. 5. City Center can do better.
Okay, lets get this out of the way first, if anyone really wants to know: That’s “Close” the verb, rhyming with doze. So “close up space” is evidently an editorial term for deleting unnecessary spaces (and especially ellipses …) in a book draft. And again, for the record, if anyone needs to know more, Hyde Pierce plays Paul Barrow, a lovable but harsh New York book editor, who offers us a marvelous display of an editor’s work at its most satisfying. If only Molly Smith Metzler’s play had remained on course with that theme, it could have been quite wonderful. Instead, his pathological daughter arrives to ruin him and make us want to “slap her one up ‘side the head.” None of the other characters are half so interesting as our editor. Or at least none of the actors manage to give them much humanity of interest. I really don’t think they were given much to work with. The unnecessary subplots seem to wallow in sitcom skit-land until Metzler finally decided to finish with melodramatic revelations about the suicide of Paul’s crazy wife, non-credible confessions and irrelevant potential reunions. Or maybe she knew all along that’s where she was headed, and left in the good stuff just to whet our appetites. I swear if I hadn’t known the play was almost over, the daughter’s primal scream would have driven me from the theater.