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The cast is trapped in 'Close Up Space'

In this theater image released by Boneau/Bryan-Brown, David

In this theater image released by Boneau/Bryan-Brown, David Hyde Pierce, left, and Rosie Perez are shown in a scene from "Close Up Space," performing off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club. Credit: AP

It may be possible to imagine David Hyde Pierce as a tyrannically insensitive book editor, a cold father of a troubled teenage daughter and an all-around nasty blowhard. It's also possible that Pierce himself, so blissfully virtuosic in persnickety light comedy, wanted to see how it felt to play such a character.

Now that we've seen him as just such an obtuse pill in "Close Up Space," a contrived and tiresome 90-minute quasi-comedy by Molly Smith Metzler, let's imagine Pierce soon finding a more deserving place to test his generous gifts.

In fact, Rosie Perez and the other three actors deserve better than this exercise in depressive-whimsy. This is a genre that John Guare can carry off with gleeful emotional intelligence, and even that master of gruesome absurdity has been known on occasion to write something too lumpy to carry.

Pierce plays Paul, a fiction editor of a small publishing house. Perez is his last remaining, most tempestuous bestselling author. She also talks so fast that, no matter how I tried, it was hard to understand more than every third word of her extravagant outbursts. I did hear, alas, that she wants him to come to her house to eat her "fiddlehead ferns."

Director Leigh Silverman, currently making far more sense out of people talking Mandarin in "Chinglish," proves here that miscommunication comes in both literal and unspoken languages. Pierce is so oblivious to meaning that he obsessively edits the letter informing him that his daughter has been kicked out of school again.

Paul still reads manuscripts in hard copy and there aren't duplicates when one gets stolen, which it does along with everything else in his office. He also likes old-fashioned projections and screens, and mourns a long-dead wife with self-deluded memories.

His daughter (played with spiky assurance by Colby Minifie) arrives pretending to speak only Russian and throws snowballs at him from a cooler. Michael Chernus almost makes us tolerate the good-natured slob, an unlikely office worker who secretly sleeps in the handsome loft waiting room because his girl dog likes his roommate better than him. Jessica DiGiovanni lucks out early as the new intern who doesn't have to stay in the play for long.


WHAT "Close Up Space"

WHERE Manhattan Theatre Club, 131 W. 55th St.

INFO $80; 212-581-1212; manhattantheatreclub.com

BOTTOM LINE Depressive-whimsy, dispiriting despite Pierce

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