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Enter the cramped Glaser-Luchs Studio Theatre and you’re in the domain of the tyrannical bibliomaniac Churchill “Church” Tupman, somewhere in the middleweight-accent regions of the American South. Just try not to knock over the books. There are hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand, heaped like fallen leaves and stacked head-high against pillars. The intimate confines demand much of both audience and actor: Those in the seats must beware occasional airborne books, and those on the stage must maintain hypnotic focus—a task director Keith Bridges and the Charter Theatre troupe handle admirably. In Allyson Currin’s dramedy, 30-ish novelist Cassie Tupman has left the big city, without luggage but with plenty of baggage, and returned home after the first book she wrote without Daddy’s guidance, the novel Pyrrhic Victory, has been savaged by critics. Cassie has a problem—just not the one she thinks she has: What seemed to be life-vs.-art is ultimately revealed to be life-vs.-Daddy. “I really am her best editor,” Church beams to his wife about his daughter; in the play’s first half, père et fille pretend they have no interest in collaborating on Cassie’s next project, whereas in the second, Cassie’s ex-fiancé, Gid (Chris Stezin), struggles to wrest her from both her self-absorption and her father’s editorial stranglehold. Rachel Gardner (Cassie) and Timmy Ray James (Church) play their intense writing scenes for laughs, but their literary relationship is stifling: to Church, a Mama Rose with tenure; to wife and mother Paula (Celeste Lawson), shut out of the father-daughter dyad (at one point, she remarks that Cassie sprang from Church’s head during a migraine); to Gid, the hapless beau; and to Cassie, who moans about her voice and scribbles incessantly in her notebook just in case the Muse happens to be dictating. Gardner’s charisma makes even the act of typing worth watching: Her solo scenes at the aged Underwood have more energy than some of the evening’s three- and four-person set pieces. The willowy Lawson makes Paula, the outsider in the Tupman intellectual dynasty, a radiant, softly humorous academic spouse, although her character has a less-than-credible habit of setting things ablaze. And James is nothing short of mesmerizing. At turns in Currin’s script, Church is a sad figure, though not so tragic that the Tupmans should lock up the gun cabinet; a comic figure, yet never without realism; and utterly in love with his wife and daughter, even though he frustrates one and suffocates the other. When James throws himself into one of Church’s hypererudite rages or, ultimately, into inchoate misery, his face suffuses with red so deeply that you’ll do a mental review of your CPR class. Of the foursome, only the suitor doesn’t suit: After a spectacular pratfall entrance (look out for those hardbacks!), Stezin displays a strange physical reticence, with a twitchiness to his head and shoulders that suggests fluster but not much else. Then again, Stezin is saddled with the play’s least interesting character: Gid’s dramatic function is to yank Cassie out of a Kaufman-Hart comedy and into real life, but their scenes too often fall into Arthur Miller—or, worse, Nora Ephron—territory instead. For the most part, though, the comedy and drama are balanced as meticulously as Thom Seymour’s Second Story-inspired set design. —Pamela Murray Winters