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Apartment 3A

A potentially trite situation is given a new twist in this play by actor Jeff Daniels.

By New York City
Joseph Collins and Amy Landecker in Apartment 3A
(Photo © Jackson Lynch)
Joseph Collins and Amy Landecker in Apartment 3A
(Photo © Jackson Lynch)
The woman who can't see true love standing right in front of her is a staple of dozens of plays, films, and television shows. But in his 1996 comedy Apartment 3A, now receiving its New York premiere at the ArcLight Theater, playwright Jeff Daniels -- yes, that Jeff Daniels -- succeeds in giving this potentially trite situation a new twist. In fact, Daniels has more than one trick up his sleeve.

No one would blame the play's central character, Annie Wilson (Amy Landecker), if she swore off men for a while; she recently returned home to find her live-in boyfriend Richard boffing another woman on her grandmother's dining room table. Traumatized, Annie moves out and into Apartment 3A of a somewhat rundown building, licking her wounds. No sooner has she moved in than her across-the-hall neighbor Donald (Joseph Collins) comes by to serve as a welcome wagon.

The wackily endearing, sometimes annoying Donald claims to be very happily married to his beautiful wife, a securities broker who's now living in Rome. But his bond with Annie seems to grow unusually strong unusually fast, and when Donald makes her promise not to fall in love with him, it almost seems like a ploy instead of a sincere request. Still, Donald is soon encouraging Annie to consider dating Elliot (Arian Moyaed), her co-worker at the Public TV station where she is director of fundraising. Though Elliot is your typical nice guy and is madly in love with Annie, she's not really interested in him. By the middle of Act II, who Annie will end up with seems to be a burning question, but it turns out that there is really no choice to be made.

Much of Daniels's writing shows great flair as he tosses off zingers with Neil Simon-like speed. Annie's twisted appeal for money to the viewers of Sesame Street is sure to be pounced on by many an auditioning actress. The author has also created sharp characterizations of Annie and Elliot, but when their "first date" devolves into a serious digression about the nature of faith -- which is ultimately the message of the play -- the conversation seems forced and overlong. And the device of Annie simultaneously having lunch while telling the story to Donald, who sits stage right, is extremely awkward.

Even in the play's weakest moments, Landecker -- who never leaves the stage -- anchors the production with her full-bodied portrayal of an urban woman on the edge. Her Annie is sometimes too brittle, even rude; but her passion (especially for her work) is always evident, as is the sweet soul beneath her hardened exterior. (In many ways, the character seems a precursor to Sex and the City's Miranda Hobbes.) Moyaed gjves an equally believable performance, even if he's a bit too inherently sexy to seem "nonexistent" as the script says he is. Collins is ultimately winning as Donald. There's also good work by Jonathan Teague Cook as Dal, Annie's puckish landlord, and J. Austin Eyer as Tony, a frustrated worker at the TV station.

Director Valentina Fratti helms the show smoothly, keeping the pacing fairly tight. Unfortunately, the ArcLight isn't the ideal space for a play with multiple settings: Annie's apartment, the TV station, the restaurant, and Elliot's apartment. Designer Lauren Helpern's idea of using the same set for every location, sometimes with the help of projections, maintains the play's flow but causes occasional confusion.

At times, Apartment 3A seems like the pilot for a television sitcom with its wacky neighbor, nosy landlord, and funny coworker; but, in this case, there are no further episodes to come. By the end of two hours, the door is closed behind us, some serious questions have been asked and answered, and it's time to go visit someone else.


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