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Fern Siegel

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Stage Door: Close Up Space, The Amazing Max and the Box of Interesting Things

Posted: 01/09/12 07:57 PM ET

One of the best scenes in Close Up Space at City Center happens in the first few minutes. Paul, an exacting book editor (David Hyde Pierce), copy edits a letter from his daughter's headmaster. He slashes the equivocations and boils the missive down to one line.

"I emaciate prose and make it obey," Paul says. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the same success with his troubled 17-year-old Harper (Colby Minifie) or slacker office assistant (Michael Chernus), who has pitched a tent in the publishing house because his dog rejected him.

However, the opening exercise in clarity makes a good point: It's important to communicate clearly -- in print or in speech. If only playwright Molly Smith Metzler had taken her own advice.

Instead, she posits various tangled relationships that strain credulity.

First, Paul's to his most successful novelist, Vanessa Finn Adams (Rosie Perez). Forget that the name doesn't fit the actress. The real problem is that Perez runs her words together so quickly, we miss occasional dialogue. Plus, she hates Paul's edits, but insists she's attracted to him.

It's hard to see these two together on a sexual level: He's a restrained widower, still mourning his wife; she's a firecracker of energy. Perez makes the most of some funny lines, but to what end? Then, suddenly, Harper appears. Loaded with rage, she rants -- inexplicably -- at her father in Russian. Then, in a single night, she takes her revenge.

Close Up Space raises genuinely touching points about the nature of grief. Metzler understands that while a family mourns, it rarely mourns together. Death can annihilate the ties with the living as easily as the dead. The cast, particularly Minifie, do what they can with their roles. But there is a sense of futility and confusion they cannot overcome.

Literal stage magic is happening uptown at the MMAC Theater at the Manhattan Movement & Arts Center for an open weekend run. The Amazing Max and the Box of Interesting Things a one-hour magic show that appeals to adults and kids alike.

Max Darwin has a friendly, charming accessibility, and his interaction with the kids, who join him on stage, as well as his extraordinary magic tricks, are nothing short of, well, amazing.

What makes the show so much fun is the talented magician's high energy, lightning-fast sleight of hand and his chemistry with his audience. Whether performing acrobatic knots, card tricks or mind reading, Max delivers a show that appeals to every member of the family.

A host of Nickelodeon's "Game Farm," Darwin has also acted in numerous commercials and off-Broadway shows. While he is in demand by corporations, his ability to astound is something to see.