Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, July 1999

The Manic Stage has a little gem on its hands in Jeff Daniels' sweet romantuc comedy "Apartment 3A". Not only is this unknown play highly entertaining, but it boasts a cast of some of our finest local talent. This all adds up to a terrific evening of theatre. The sad part is no one is going to see it.

Playwright Jeff Daniels is best known for his movie roles in "The Purple Rose of Cairo", "Dumb and Dumber" and "Pleasantville", but he had his start on the stage and has founded the Purple Rose Theatre in his hometown of Chelsea, Michigan, where he and his wife are raising their own family. "Apartment 3A" was written for the Purple Rose Theatre and premiered there about two years ago. It is still unpublished and the Manic is performing it by special arrangement with Daniels' agent.

I am happy to report that Daniels is neither dumb nor dumber when it comes to play writing. He has crafted a fine, funny, tender script, which directors Spencer Trova and Bruce MacDonald have staged well in the Manic' narrow confines.

MacDonald and Sean Patrick Fagan are fine in peripheral roles, but it is Alexia Trova as the heroine Annie Wilson, and Jim Beaudin and Brian Plouffe as her two love interests Donald and Elliot who hold the show aloft. While the cast is heavily male, Daniels really has written a woman's play about a very interesting though seriously confused Annie.

Annie lives in an unidentified major metropolitan area and works as the fund raising director for the local public television station, along with Elliot. She has just left her long time live-in boyfriend after discovering him in bed with another woman. Desperate for a new home, she rents apartment 3A in a questionable part of town. The night she moves in Donald from 3B insinuates himself into her life. Happily married, Donald becomes Annie's platonic confidante, but eventually she finds herself deeply in love with him - just as Elliot declares his love for her.

Daniels uses Annie's conversations with Donald to frame many of Annie's encounters with Elliot, even allowing Donald to be the apparent voyeur during the couple's torrid love making. Yes, there is simulated sex on the stage here folks, although there is no nudity and all is done in good humor.

This is also a surprisingly religious show. God is a presence throughout. Elliot is a devout Catholic. Annie thinks she doesn't believe in a God. The surprise ending places God front and center in Annie's life.

Trova is great as Annie. And she is faced with a dilemma choosing between Plouffe's faithful Elliot and Beaudin's Jim. Beaudin comes on slightly nerdy and annoying at the start, but his portrayl of a man with a deep faith and love is irresistible in the end. Its the waltzing that does it. Plouffe is faced with the challenge of playing a man who is described repeatedly as non-descript, but his Elliot misses being either too bland or too perfect and comes out being a dependable, loving man. Just the kind of guy Annie needs.

Don't go to the Manic expecting fancy sets and costumes and lights. This is bare bones theatre, and the tunnel-like playing space is a handicap every Manic director must struggle to overcome. This is not the most glamorous set I've seen at the Manic, and sometimes it is confusing exactly where the action is taking place, but the play and the acting soon distract you from those minor details. It doesn't take a great set to make a great show.

I thought of starting this review like some Old Testament prophet - crying "Shame! Shame!" to the people of north Berkshire for flocking to see star studded casts while ignoring our own home grown shows. But then I remembered how unpopular Old Testament prophets have become in this permissive era and I took another tactic. But when exactly one person shows up for an opening night performance, it is a shame.

So listen up and listen good - "Apartment 3A" is worth seeing. The closing of Zoie's restaurant has NOT effected the Manic Stage. They are alive and well, but only so long as the community supports them. Go!

"Apartment 3A" runs through August 22 at the Manic Stage, 55 Main Street, North Adams. The show runs two hours with one intermission. Call the box office at 413-662-2323 for tickets and information.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 1999

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