Nowadays, actors are not content simply to be told what to do and say. Their discontent frequently leads them into the more powerful roles of writer and director. Sometimes they are looking for different means of self-expression. Sometimes they want to explore careers that don't end at age 50. And sometimes they just feel they could do the jobs better than the current crop. Jeff Daniels, known mostly for his film work, has been writing shows for his Michigan-based Purple Rose Theater Company for the past 15 years, a fact that the average moviegoer (and even theatergoer) may not know. But what's most surprising about his theatrical work is not that he's doing it but that, if Apartment 3A is any indication, he's doing it so well.
Producers Lisa Dozier and Traci Klainer are presenting Apartment 3A at the ArcLight Theater, a classic proscenium stage within a church and a fitting location for this spiritually minded piece. When the play opens, public television employee Annie Wilson moves into the titular apartment after catching her boyfriend "in bed" (or, really, on a table) with another woman. Her self-sought isolation in the new building is shattered by Donald, her nosy but well-intentioned neighbor across the hall. He pushes Annie to engage with the world and the people around her, including Elliot, a co-worker who's desperately in love with her. What Annie needs most is to discover her faith in the world so she can find her faith in love.
Amy Landecker's Annie is private, sarcastic, and introverted, but also very passionate, funny, and smart. Landecker makes sense of the open and hidden areas of the character's personality while at the same time hinting at further complexity. And her interactions with the other actors crackle with life and intensity.
As the quirky and faithfully married Donald, Joseph Collins finds a way to keep "nonthreatening" from being boring. And Arian Moayed invests Elliot with a boyish energy that becomes sexy once Annie, and the audience, catches on to his deeper passions and eccentricities.
Set designer Lauren Helpern has created an apartment set that most young audience members would find nicer than their own dwellings, with dark-wood floors and a lovely, powder-blue paint job. A projected TV logo on the wall and the conversion of the kitchen into an editing room transforms 3A into Annie's office, a very effective solution for streamlining the scene changes.
Daniels's script pops with witty exchanges that are neither too smart nor dumb for the room; every joke worked, even in a crowd that ranged in age from 20's to 70's. When the tone shifted from comic to serious, the author's words and the actors' delivery made for seamless transitions.
Valentina Fratti's assured direction kept the action moving along while allowing for the kind of pauses that occur naturally in awkward situations. The most refreshing aspect of this production was its polish—a rare and beautiful thing in Off-Off-Broadway theater.
Daniels has earned much praise recently for his acting in the indie film The Squid and the Whale. While no one would want to keep a gifted actor from doing good performances, one hopes that as a playwright he'll continue to turn out moving, character-driven plays like this one. Who knows? Perhaps one of these days he'll be better known for his side career than for his day job.