Joseph Collins and Amy Landecker find companionship across a hall in Apartment 3A.
Jeff Daniels, playwright, takes a shot at love
By Jerry Tallmer
Anyone who ever saw Ragtime or The Fifth of July or Terms of Endearment or Woody Allens great The Purple Rose of Cairo or Gettysburg or Johnny Got His Gun or Yellow Sky or Something Wild or Fly Away Home or Good Night, and Good Luck or The Squid and the Whale or any of 60 or so other movies and plays in which hes been realer than real, will know that Jeff Daniels can act is a marvelous actor but who knew he could write plays?
Jeff Daniels knew. Hes written nine of them.
And one of those plays, a serious, soul-lifting comedy called Apartment 3A, is at the Arclight Theater on West 71st Street through February 11. Its a window into the love life of a spirited young idealist named Annie Wilson, ardent crusader for public television, blown apart by one man and put back together by another who makes himself known as the neighbor across the hall from the barren apartment in which she has taken refuge.
The actress who plays Annie is Amy Landecker, and Amy Landecker is the reason another spirited idealist directs this production. Her name is Valentina Fratti, and if you want to know, the Valentina was pinned on her by her parents in honor of Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, first woman in space. Well get back to her parents.
The first time I ever read this play, Ms. Fratti said one day last week, I read it very quickly, and absolutely fell in love with it. That was some years ago. But then other things intervened.
When I was assisting [director] Robert Falls on Rebecca Gilmans Blue Surge at the Public Theater, I met this wonderful actor Amy Landecker, from Chicago, and knew right away she was the right actor to do Annie.
We did a reading of Apartment 3A for the authors agent, and the agent immediately said yes. Once that was decided, I started trying to reach Jeff Daniels. That took forever. Finally we spoke on the phone, and he was wonderful. It turned out he had done this play at his own Purple Rose Theater that hed built in his hometown, Chelsea, Michigan.
I said: Look, I love this play. To me, its all about hope, and nothings more important than that. I was so enthusiastic. I think thats what got him interested in a New York production. But at that point we were delayed again: Amy got pregnant.
Ms. Landecker and husband Jackson Lynch the photographer are now the parents of a little girl named Lola.
With all of this, has Valentina Fratti ever met Jeff Daniels face to face?
No. Two beats. What am I saying? Im losing my mind. I have met him. He did a gig last November at Joes Pub hes a very good singer/songwriter as a benefit for the Purple Rose.
In all the contact Ive had with him, working on this play, theres been no garbage. In many ways hes given me carte blanche. Which is also difficult, in a way; Im used to working with a playwright.
She doesnt even know if Daniels will come to New York to see the show.
Right now hes out on an Oscar junket for The Squid and the Whale. He said to me: My life is not my own.
Valentina Frattis life was hardly her own when for 10 years she gave her all to the Miranda Theater that she and Cathy Buxton and Raymond Haigler, then Valentinas husband, had founded in 1989.
For five years we were nomadic. Then we built our theater at 259 West 30th Street and the building of the actual physical space pretty much killed my marriage. Miranda was there for five more years, and then they quadrupled the rent.
Valentinas father is a playwright himself, and a prolific one. Hes Mario Fratti, who as a young reporter on Italian newspapers spent days observing Federico Fellini in action (and inaction) at Cinecitta during the making of 81&Mac218;2 and would one day put all this observation into a drama that became the template for the Broadway musical Nine.
Valentinas mother, who died in 1992, was Laura Dubman Fratti, a onetime child-prodigy pianist who debuted at Carnegie Hall at age 5, but eventually went to work at MGM, where, among other things, she taught Katharine Hepburn how to play piano as Clara Schumann in Song of Love.
So they became real pals. And Katharine Hepburn is was Valentina Frattis godmother. I grew up in a thinking, intellectual family.
Donald, the gentleman from across the hall in Apartment 3A, becomes something more than a godfather to Annie Wilson. Hes played by Joseph Collins.
Elliot, the nice nervous guy at the TV studio who really and truly loves Annie a good strong dose of sex not excluded is played by Arian Moayed. Theres something sort of pure and grounded in reality here. These people are not fussed over. I see the sex as total comedy, says director Fratti. I dont want to seem prudish, but thats the other thing I like about Jeffs work: No vulgarity.
Completing the cast are Jonathan Cook as the quirky superintendant of the building in which new tenant Annie seeks refuge, and J. Austen Eyer as a technician in a booth at WPBK, Channel 68. Theres a good deal of commotion over Sesame Street and Big Bird. Annie Wilson proclaims over the air the death of BB in the interest of no bullshit.
I never liked Sesame Street, says Valentina Fratti. I liked Mister Rogers. Hides her face. Please dont print that.
Oh what the hell.