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Apartment 3A

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You're probably familiar with the talent of actor Jeff Daniels, a film star with solid on- and off-Broadway credits. Recently he's also been writing and producing plays in his home state of Michigan. One such play, the clever, inventive Apartment 3A, is at Little Lake Theatre in a well-played, well-directed and polished production.

The dialogue and action could unsettle regular Little Lake patrons: Daniels has written several mouthfuls of profanity, plus frank talk about sex and a scene of few-holds-barred coupling. Titillation, however, doesn't look like the goal. Rather, the script comes across as a partly comic, partly serious, rather simple story whose conclusion features a major surprise.

For the audience, expectations can quickly emerge about what look like planted elements of future significance. Annie, in charge of public-TV fund-raising, leaves her two-timing boyfriend and rents an apartment in a questionable neighborhood. Very friendly Donald, from next door, introduces himself. He insists that he doesn't intend to hit on Annie, even though his wife is absent, repeatedly detailing how happily he's married.

Then Annie gets involved with co-worker Elliot. During a long, often funny lunch, they come to know each other better, especially during a vigorous debate about religious faith, including the possibility of miracles. Annie also spends considerable time with Donald discussing her relationship with Elliot, including play-by-play descriptions of vigorous, phenomenal, evidently miraculous screwing. Eventually Donald's presence completely overturns Annie's equilibrium.

Daniels' inventive devices include having Annie detail her experiences over Elliot's shoulder, as if all three of them could be together in the same place. And that lunchtime debate offers substantial food for thought about disbelief in a just God and about innocent hope for spiritual salvation. Daniels has also well developed and matched Annie and Elliot's insecurities.

At times, the script seems amateurish, such as when Annie and Elliot talk face to face with their nonvisible boss. Or when Donald brags about what a great cook he is ... while preparing scrambled eggs. Or when Daniels lays in clichés about coital connections.

But credit director Art DeConciliis for getting thoroughly solid performances from his young cast. Aaron Bernard especially stands out as Elliot, with earnest, innocent, charming warmth. Nikki MCrea and William W. Schaefer capably define Annie and Donald. DeConciliis has elicited speaking, listening and reacting equal to that of more experienced actors.

By the way, in November Little Lake will produce Jeff Daniels' Escanaba in da Moonlight. More surprises await.

Apartment 3A continues through Sept. 1. Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive South (off Route 19), Canonsburg. 724-745-6300 or www.littlelaketheatre.org

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