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A CurtainUp Review
Apartment 3A

Apartment 3A Returns to Off-Broadway
It's been just two years since this gentle comedy by actor Jeff Daniels played at the Arclight Theater in midtown Manhattan. Though it didn't exactly collect rave reviews, the play is now back: different producing company, different director, different cast. If you missed it at the Arclight, you can now see for yourself if Daniels is as good a playwright as he is an actor.

Beckett Theatre @ Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street,: 212-279-4200
Written byJeff Daniels
Directed by Owen M. Smith.
Cast: Marianna McClellan (Annie Wilson), Doug Nyman (Donald Peterson), Jay Rohloff (Elliot Brown), Philip J. Cutrone (Dal) and Vincent Vigilante (Tony).
Scenic design by Olga Mill
Costume design by Jocelyn Melechinsky
Lighting design by Joshua Windhausen
Sound design by R. Canterberry Hall & Scott Anderson. From 01/26/08; opening 02/01/08; closing 2/16/08. Tues-Sat @ 8, Sat @ 2, Sun @ 3. Tickets, $25 tickets, $15 for students. Run Time: 100 minutes.

original review by By Elyse Sommer

You haven't lived until you've waltzed with the one you love. --- Donald

Joseph Collins & Amy Landecker in Apartment 3A
Joseph Collins & Amy Landecker in Apartment 3A
(Photo: Jackson Lynch )
You've met her before in fluffy romantic comedies on the large and small screen. She's smart and attractive and should have no trouble finding a man with whom to live happily ever after. Her problem is that she can't see the tree for the forest -- the forest being all the wrong men who disappoint her while the tree is the nondescript and available Mr. Right who's right before her eyes.

review continues below

Actor and playwright Jeff Daniels' smart girl doing herself in with foolish choices is Annie Wilson' (Amy Landecker), a fundraiser for a Midwestern Public Broadcasting station. After finding her latest Mr. Wrong in bed with another woman, she rushes out of the apartment they shared. She spots a Vacancy sign for an empty apartment moves in. Accordng to the landlord (Jonathan Teague Cook) it's the nicest apartment in the building. Annie finds herself unable to resist Donald (Joseph Collins), a somewhat odd neighbor who -- miracle of miracles -- nudges her into give Elliot (Arian Moyyed), her office colleague and the wannabe Mr. Right, a chance to at least take her to lunch.

For a New Yorker, a vacancy sign and the ease with which Amy finds an apartment would be something of a miracle in itself. But the miracle Daniels has on his mind is a twist to this familiar romantic setup. The romance that's abetted by Donald is not another relationship "starting out in the dark with soft music and no clothes" and with daylight exchanges about favorite colors which forher tun out to be " a lovely shade of abyss." Sure this is all about Annier finding her true love -- but the real gold ring on this romantic merry-go-round is the discovery --or is it recovery? -- of faith.

Sound a little preachy and perhaps even ethereal? It is. In fact, though Annie seems to be a staunch non-believer, the first thing she does after she closes the door on her newly rented digs is to sink to the floor and mumble a barely audible "Hail Mary." Thus, instead of the traditional first act gun that must go off before the end, we have a hidden arsenal of ingrained faith ready to be charged up.

The downside of this sexy comic romance is that fantasy and pro- faith arguments are applied with such a heavy hand that Annie and Elliot's story seems like a remake of an old Jimmy Stewart or Robert Montgomery movie and the ever-present Donald comes off as more banal than boldly imaginative. On the up side, Daniels writes peppy and funny dialogue, and the actors deliver it with perfect timing. Amy Landecker gives an especially persuasive and committed performance. Her two fundraising monologues-cum-on-the-air crackups are hilarious, especially the one in which she threatens that Big Bird will die if the kids who tune in most often don't nudge their parents to call in with their pledges.

Director Valentina Fratti keeps a tight reign on pacing the action that shifts from Annie's apartment, to the office, to the broadcast room and a restaurant. Given the budget and venue constraints, these transitions are not easy to realize -- happily, with a strong assist from set and lighting designers Lauren Helpern and Traci Klainer, Fratti has achieved her own little miracle. Now, if the playwright could boost his plot and character building skills to the level of his knack for sharp dialogue and avoid those waltzing cliches, he'd be that much

Playwright: Jeff Daniels
Directed by Valentina Fratti
Cast: Amy Landecker, Jonathan Teague Cook, J Austin Eyer, Arian Moyaed, Joseph Collins
Set Design: Lauren Helpern
Costume Design: David Newell
Lighting Design: Traci Klainer;
Sound Design & Original Music: Jeremy J. Lee
Choreography: Rachel Bress
Running time: 2 hours with one intermission
Arclight,152 W. 71 St. (Broadway/Columbus Av), 212-352-3101
From 1/20/06 to 2/11/06; opening 1/23/06
Thu - Sat at 8pm; Mon, Sun at 7pm.
Tickets: $15

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 1/23/06 press performance
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©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer.
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