Nov. 5 2008 12:00 AM


Many plays portray the coming-of-age stories of young adult singles in America, their first-time experiences of big-city life, climbing up the stairs of decrepit brownstone buildings to run-down efficiency apartments. None, however, are likely to have the metaphysical charm of Jeff Daniels “Apartment 3A,” now playing at the Purple Rose Theatre.

Daniels has a knack, call it a Midwestern knack, for seeing through the surface cynicism of metropolitan life to the insecurities and loneliness of people trying to hide their yearning for a sense of meaning in their lives.

“Apartment 3A” centers on the story of Annie, a 30-something fundraiser for NPR. She is a bitter, hard-edged young woman who has been rejected in love and has lost her sense of innocence. Retreating from a failed relationship, Annie rents a seamy apartment, where Donald, the too-goodto-be-true guy across the hall, soon visits her. Donald is a bright-eyed, smiley-faced optimist who is handsome and emotionally accessible but happily married.

At work, Annie is pestered for a lunch date by earnest, salt-of-the-earth coworker Elliot, who’s largely unexamined Catholicism evokes a string of antagonistic invectives. Love and sex intertwine in tender and hilarious ways, as Annie resists falling for Donald, all the while trying to beat the hopelessly infatuated Elliot off with a stick.

Director Guy Sanville has lightened his touch for this production, mixing deep vulnerability and vibrant intimacy with his usual raucous hilarity.

Daniels’ exploration of spirituality, the relationship between the physical plane of every day existence and that mysterious sphere of existence some see hovering overhead, makes this play tantalizingly tender, a bit like if Frank Capra wrote an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” Rhiannon Ragland is Annie, transforming beautifully from an ugly duckling of a burned-out cynic to a swan of heart-felt emotionality. Her face and movements melt from icy brittleness to warm sensuality.

Michael Ogden, as Donald, and Matthew David, as Elliot, are superb as contrasting examples of men with deep feelings and the ability to articulate them. Purple Rose veteran Will David Young joins these three on stage in the small part of Dal the apartment manager, adding a dash and dollop of grace and humor to the production.

What perhaps makes this play most unique is Daniels’ willingness to write the question that is often, albeit silently, on the minds of young adults everywhere: Why, indeed, are we here? Donald’s (Daniels’) admonition to young lovers, “You will find the one you are destined to love when you find someone with whom you can waltz,” is both simple and prophetic. Life is a dance. One cannot dance alone. One needs a partner.

‘Apartment 3A’ Purple Rose Theatre Co. Through Dec. 20 8 p.m.
Wednesday-Friday 3 p.m. & 8 p.m. Saturday 2 p.m. Sunday $25-$38 137
Park St., Chelsea (734) 433-7673 www.purplerosetheatre.org