Do you believe in God? How about in magic, or nature? Do you believe in love?
Windy City Playhouse’s Apartment 3A, led by Eleni Pappageorge as Annie, José Antonio Garcia as Elliot, and Daniel Smith as Donald, believes (at least a little bit), in all of them. Ron OJ Parson directs the romantic comedy by Jeff Daniels, best known as an actor (HBO’s “Newsroom”).
Still reeling from the recent infidelity of her now ex-boyfriend, Annie impulsively rents the titular apartment, complete with foul-mouthed landlord, played with just the right amount of blasé by Peter DeFaria, quirky neighbors, and a story in every nook and cranny. She soon learns that she might have inherited more than she bargained for in the form of her mysterious, and quite dapper, neighbor Donald. Smith’s slight of hand, his skills on the dance floor, and his charismatic suave distract us just long enough to make Donald’s somewhat alarming insistence on being in Annie’s apartment seem intriguing.
Pappageorge’s performance as the hurting, care-weary public broadcasting admin Annie, gives the play its bite and her quick temper moves it forward one rant at a time. Seemingly unlucky in love, she is convinced by earnest, yet self-deprecating, coworker Elliot to go on a lunch date with him. Elliot is embarrassed and delighted and surprised; a hopeful counterpart to Annie’s wounded cynicism. As their relationship unfolds, we learn that while he takes bedroom advice from polar bears, Elliot is sincere and in some ways hurting just as much as Annie, and that together they have a chance to believe in something again.
Despite dipping into preachy exposition, and into the dreaded nice-guy worldview – Elliot’s insistence that he is maybe the best thing in Annie’s life – Daniels’ script delivers a sensitive look at loss, distrust, and faith. Similarly, though the script telegraphs a not-that-unexpected twist, the night is not ruined when all is at last revealed. If anything, Pappageorge’s stubborn and headstrong Annie keeps the lid on that final turn, and keeps the play from being too predictable for its own good.
It’s fair to say that the energy of the production could use some refinement and a sharpened focus; at times Annie’s forceful voice seems blunt without purpose, and Elliot’s softness manipulative where it could be vulnerable. Certain scenes rely heavily on campy physicality where they might have been just as funny played with fewer antics. A lingering sense that there was a joke somewhere in each scene dimmed some of the bright pain of these characters being open with someone so soon after being hurt, and it seemed as though no one ever quite got to the punch line, or even to the joke itself.
Through it all, Apartment 3A is a light-hearted, if somewhat sober, portrayal of slow and unsteady healing, faith, and maybe even love. The cabaret space at Windy City supports the set admirably and as you’ll see, God is in the details. Jacqueline Penrod and Jared Gooding’s smart design and a measure of whimsy make what could be a challenge look easy, and despite an errant lamp or two, proved delightful in the end.
Not quite a show for kids, it makes for a wonderful night out. The play runs 2 hours and 20 minutes and runs through December 18 at Windy City Playhouse, 3014 W. Irving Park Rd. Tickets are $35-55. You can reach the box office at 773-891-8985, or grab your tickets at windycityplayhouse.com.