According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Apartment 3A

Jeff Daniels asks us to try a little faith and love and faith in love in his Ghost meets Sweet November hybrid for the stage. Although this Clockwork Theatre production is often funny and romantic, the climax is predictable and uses a scenic route to tell a story that would be better told straight through.


Reviewed by Cindy Pierre

Public television executive Annie Wilson (Marianna McClellan), driving around in her rented U-Haul truck, has been waiting to exhale. But when she finally does in her shabby new apartment, her breath erupts into a full-blown sob over losing the acrobatic love of her life that inspired the move. Apartment 3A, by Jeff Daniels, examines the bittersweet hereafter for Annie once the crying stops, and the hope begins.

Not long after Annie receives her apartment keys from her new landlord Dal (a comfortable Philip J. Cutrone), she receives an unwanted visit from her intrusive neighbor Donald Peterson (Doug Nyman). Left behind by his beloved wife on yet another business trip, Donald has all the time in the world to become Annie's confidante and conscience. Despite the distracting intro music by R. Canterberry Hall and Iaeden Hovorka that continues to play long past the need for it, the well-written dialogue between these would-be bosom buddies can still be heard. The set by Olga Mill, versatile only in the audience's imagination, "transforms" from Annie's sparsely furnished apartment to her TV station. There, we find Elliot Brown (Jay Rohloff), a passionate co-worker (well, at least about polar bear mating rituals) who is smitten with her.

Annie is waging a war against many things that, unfortunately, are intrinsic to her nature. She cares too much in a world that doesn't care enough. This "flaw" has soured her relationships, caused tension at a job that's under the threat of ceasing to exist, and made her question her faith, not just in the divine, but in herself. She finds a spiritual combatant in Elliot, who is happy to deliberate the specifics of his Catholic beliefs without having a firm grasp on them. Annie asks questions that are thoughtful and intelligent, and although we wish Elliot had better answers, his blind faith reflects an attitude that some people who are not religious believe the devout to have. Through his persistence and faith, Elliot hopes to convince Annie that God does exist, and that he expresses his love for mankind through love found in each other. Donald supports these ideas and Elliot's courting of Annie in fewer words.

Apartment 3A feels more like a television drama than a play. Under Owen M. Smith's direction, it unfurls in a very formulaic way. While playing a scene with Elliot, Annie concurrently receives counsel from Donald, much like a good/bad angel sitting on her shoulders. This is a strategy that repeats itself in the play, unbeknownst to Elliot. Although executed well, these three-party exchanges for the production also foreshadow the climax. And while Nyman's Donald is a snappy straight shooter who cuts right to the truth, some of the production choices and certain lines reveal more about his function in the play than they should.

The passionate sex scene between Elliot and Annie, a startling and unwarranted display given the nature of their characters, is amusing rather than primal, forced rather than freeing for several reasons. As Elliot, Rohloff is endearing because of his childlike faith. He may be a great brown-noser and romantic standby, but nothing in his actions indicate that he would dare to be as wanton as the scene suggests. Wilson's Annie alternates well between neurotic and anxious, and impulsive and spirited. But her almost floor-length skirts and buttoned-to-the-top shirts prevent her from exuding the comfort with her sexuality that this scene and her discussion of it requires.

And although Annie's broadcast speeches divulge much about her character, they come off as far too preachy. Her emotional and mental state comes out of her conversations with Elliot and Donald, and the very precipice on which this play stands: loss of who she thought was the love of her life. The pleas on camera are simply overkill, although the deliberation over Annie's warning that Sesame Street will die is a charming angle that ties to the theme of hope and faith. Apart from the intro music that trails, the remainder of the sound cues punctuate moods well with exclamations and periods.

Apartment 3A is a look at a woman's journey into self-discovery and optimism. It is about finding faith in the unlikeliest of places, and not being afraid to embrace it. Though it's vacant on surprise, it is very much occupied with passion, romance, beauty and conviction.

Through February 16th. Tickets: $25. 212-279-4200.

Theatre Row's Beckett Theatre 410 West 42nd Street

(between 9th & 10th Avenues) New York, NY 10036

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