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Purple Rose revisits favorite ‘Apartment’

By |2018-01-16T12:57:06-05:00October 30th, 2008|Entertainment|

By D. A. Blackburn

“Apartment 3A” may be the “nicest apartment in the building,” but it’s certainly not the most desirable property in town. One of 12 plays written by Jeff Daniels for The Purple Rose Theatre Company, “3A” has seen moderate success since its premiere in 1996, having been mounted off-Broadway twice, and by regional theaters throughout the nation. For 2008, the Purple Rose has revived the work as its season opener, and given it a 10-week run.
“3A” is a straightforward work, hinging on the dual themes of discovering true love and the finding of spiritual faith. Daniels has given the work easily relatable characters and a familiar, if nondescript, setting in an unnamed Midwestern city. But as such, the work has a very generic feel, and unfolds predictably. Though his dialogue is sharp, the script is riddled with cliches and conventions far more suited to Hollywood or the stage than to reality.
Annie (Rhiannon Ragland) impulsively rents 3A, seeking to escape her heartache after discovering her boyfriend’s infidelity. She’s welcomed to the building by a mysterious – read ghostly – neighbor Donald (Michael Brian Ogden), who forces his friendship on her, and eventually coaches her through her heartache and into a romance with Elliot (Matthew David), a neurotic, less-than-ideal suitor.
In its best moments, “3A” is sincere, sweet and very poignant. But the bulk of the work suffers from a frantic, uneasy pacing. Annie and Elliot’s first date – a lunch, during which they debate the existence of God – unfolds as a firestorm of dialogue – too staggering and contrived to be real – culminating in a perfectly cliche kiss. After their first sexual encounter, the pair gets caught up in an awkward discussion about the quality of their love making, Annie’s multiple orgasms and the idea that such incredible sex must certainly be proof of God’s existence. The scene is extremely kitsch, but it might work better had director Guy Sanville not chosen to frantically pace Elliot in circles around the set, distracting the audience and draining any semblance of realism from the characters’ interaction.
These scenes are both integral parts of “3A’s” story, seminal moments in the work’s drama, but both are also prime examples of “3A’s” flaws. Sadly, they seem to overshadow the work’s finer scenes, like the many thoughtful – if cliche – encounters between Annie and Donald. Sanville’s touch in these moments is far less abrasive, allowing the characters to develop significant depth of emotion through Daniels’ thoughtful dialogue.
The entire work exists on a single, sparse set, which under-serves the work. “3A” shifts from scene to scene, and locale to locale, with blurry, poorly defined transitions. Though Daniel C. Walker’s graceful, understated touch with lighting helps to delineate changes in setting, Bartley H. Bauer’s sets seem to compound the haze ingrained in Daniels’ script.
That said, both designers have made elegant statements with their simplicity.
Bauer’s set is attractive, and thoughtful with simple touches. He’s given the audience a nice illusion in creating a hallway outside of apartment 3A, and also made good choices with his colors and textures – simple touches that add credibility to the staging.
Walker’s lighting is very subtle, but also very effective. Its gentle tones and thoughtful windowpane projections give the impression of a much more significant staging.
Tom Whalen’s sound design, moreover, is superb, integrating realistic effects with good musical selections.
In spite of the issues, the cast of “3A” is consistently good, certainly of the caliber one would expect at The Purple Rose.
Ragland easily captures the essence of Annie and her myriad emotions, making for a very likable lead.
David also makes the most of his character, finding a delightful charm under the layers of nervous energy in Elliot.
Ogden is equally likable as Donald, giving the character a charisma all his own.
Also noteworthy is Will David Young’s portrayal of landlord Dal. It’s a small, but very important part, and Young is an excellent fit to it. He’s got an ideal look for the role, and also gives it significant depth with his warm mannerisms.
Though “3A” is in good hands with regard to cast, the production’s unnatural pacing and Daniels’ convoluted script make for a gloomy property on the prime real estate of the stage at Chelsea’s theatrical jewel.

‘Apartment 3A’
The Purple Rose Theatre Company, 137 Park St., Chelsea. Wednesday-Sunday through Dec. 20. Tickets: $25-$38. For information: 734-433-7673 or

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BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.