nytheatre.com review by Ivanna Cullinan
January 26, 2008
Clockwork Theatre has given Jeff Daniels's Apartment 3A a strong production that is well designed (especially Olga Mill's simple yet evocative set) and solidly cast. While the play has some quirks I didn't care for, the overall experience is a good night of theatre and provides plenty to talk about after the show.
Somewhere in the Midwest, local PBS fundraiser Annie Wilson has just had a disastrous breakup with her feckless boyfriend and makes a late night decision to rent apartment 3A from landlord Dal (Philip J. Cutrone). He is effusive about the neighborhood's possibilities as well as this place being the best apartment in the building, and she instantly moves in. After her landlord leaves, Annie meets her neighbor, Donald, a man adamantly in love with his wife who is working in Rome. For some reason appointing himself her new best friend, Donald also has the aggravating habit of continually calling Annie a liar (in some sort of tough love gambit?) to force her to recognize her actions and emotions. Luckily, as Doug Nyman imbues Donald with a fair amount of charm, he managed to make this character, who is essentially a man teaching a woman how she feels, not entirely bug the bejesus out of me.
As their friendship progresses, Annie reveals more about herself and the guy she should be dating, Elliott (winningly acted by Jay Rohloff), who handily also works at the PBS station. The station itself is in the midst of a fundraising drive and the stressors in Annie's life prompt some of the more intriguing fundraising appeals one might hear—to the distress of co-worker Tony (simply, solidly played by Vincent Vigilante) and amusement of the audience. A series of risks are taken, a few disasters ensue, but ultimately Annie prevails.
Within Apartment 3A there seem to be two themes, one of the importance of hope to the experience of being alive and one of true love being the reason underneath it all. Very noble sentiments that are hard to argue about, and the play doesn't really—which leaves that fight for the characters to create and places most of the burden on Annie who, with insufficient textual cause, has to resist the appeals of two such charming men. Now Marina McClellan is a skilled actor who brings a lot of depth to Annie but it is difficult to be providing conflict by, on some level, always saying no. Annie ends up somewhat less attractive as a character and certainly less sympathetic than the others.
The play is at its best when the storytelling segues back and forth between Annie telling Donald about what's happened and the event unfolding within that commentary. Director Owen M. Smith moves those sequences clearly and briskly along with an energy that would help strengthen a few other moments in the play (where a brighter pace would certainly make Annie more appealing in the moments where she has to work things through aloud). Most of the time Apartment 3A is written in the classic well-made play format, which makes the reality torque that Daniels has written in at the end so excruciatingly annoying. Smith's game direction tries to give it context, but basically Daniels pulls the reality rug out from under his characters and allows them no text to recover or adjust or react to that shift but just ends the darn thing. Yet Smith almost pulls it off in his staging and the entire production gives this play more, in certain ways, than it deserves.
Clockwork Theater appears to be a solid company, and Apartment 3A is produced with care and thoughtfulness that fills in the play's limits and delivers a nice evening of theatre.