Steve (David Wald) and Paul Barrow (Rutherford Cravens)

Close Up Space
Main Street Theater
May 23–June 16
Thu at 7:30; Fri & Sat at 8; Sun at 3. $32–36.
2540 Times Blvd.
713-524-6706
mainstreettheater.com 

In the first scene of Main Street Theater’s regional premiere of Molly Smith Metzler’s play Close Up Space, book editor Paul Barrow corrects errors in an e-mail from his daughter’s boarding school. An old-school grammarian, Barrow still uses a red pen to edit his authors’ manuscripts, and decries the decline of literary standards in contemporary society.

Unfortunately, Barrow is an island of rectitude in a sea of sloppiness. His college-age intern can’t stay off her computer; his assistant pitches a tent in the office and refuses to leave; his star novelist threatens to leave for another publisher. Worst of all, Barrow’s daughter gets expelled from boarding school and shows up at his house speaking in Russian.

Main Street executive artistic director Rebecca Greene Udden first read Close Up Space while serving as a reader for the Susan Blackburn Prize, which is awarded annually to an outstanding play by a female playwright. Close Up Space, premiered at the Manhattan Theatre Club in December 2011, and was named a finalist for the Blackburn Prize in 2012.

Andrew Ruthven, the play’s director, says that he found the play “hysterically funny,” when he first read it. Much of the play’s humor comes from the contrast between Barrow’s fussy exactitude and the messiness of the world around him. But Ruthven says that audience members don’t need an MFA to understand the recondite literary jargon Barrow uses. (Even the play’s title doesn’t mean what you think it means.) “Everything is explained, either early on or at the end of the play. Even the title, ‘Close Up Space,' is explained—it’s an editing term.”

According to Ruthven, the most difficult part of staging the play wasn’t the linguistic terminology but the way it mixes genres. “The play is about 80 percent comedy and 20 percent heart-wrenching family drama between the father and the daughter,” he says. “So the biggest challenge for audiences is that the play starts off as a screwball comedy and then turns around and pulls at your heartstrings. Then it turns right back around and becomes a screwball comedy again.” Ultimately, though, audiences seem to be taking the play’s twists in stride.

 “It pulls at your heart a little bit, but before the play is over it’s got you laughing again,” Ruthven says. “It’s just different.” 

 

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