Playwright: Jeff Daniels. At: Windy City Playhouse, 3014 W. Irving Park Rd. Tickets: $25-$55. Runs through: Dec. 18
When a man dwelling in a shabby apartment building located on the fringes of a slated-for-gentrification district is seen always garbed in a sleek Armani suit with a blooming rose in his lapel, even in the wee hours of the morning, we suspect that there might be more to him than meets the eyeand when he eagerly extols the limitless virtues of his never-seen wife, whose job entails frequent travel, we also begin to wonder about her.
That her faithful husband appears happy in his long-distance marriage only piques our curiosity further.
Don't mistake Jeff Daniels' play for your standard-issue romcom. To be sure, its personnel features a pair of young lovers: Annie's ex-boyfriend accused her of "caring in a world that doesn't give a shit any more"censure she has taken to heart, rendering herself insecure, vulnerable, and wary of exacerbating the misanthropy suffusing her universe. Elliot, her cheerfully nurturing co-worker at the Public Broadcasting Service, longs to ease her wounded spirit, but Annie, convinced that she is undeserving of such kindness, resists his ministrations.
Before Cupid's arrows find their elusive targets, these generic losers will bicker cutely over theological differences, the connections between nature documentaries and martial harmony, the worthiness of their industry, and engage in slapstick sex, staged so athletically as to require a choreographer.
Yeah, yeah, but what we really want to know is how Donald Peterson, the well-dressed, oddly intuitive tenant who lives across the hall from Annie and who has a mysterious way of popping in on her when she is alonefits into this picture. Is he a stalker practicing reverse psychology? A hustler trawling for a lonely benefactor? A self-styled rescuer of distressed damsels? An angel entertained unawares? A messenger from Eros wearing wingtips? Our questions are answered by the play's conclusion, but only after much performance time devoted to mating dances we have seen many times before.
That being so, it goes without saying that our affections toward Annie and Elliott must never be permitted to waver for an instanteven when the former goes ballistic during a pledge drive, threatening the denizens of Sesame Street with homelessness and death if viewers don't pony up. Under the expert direction of Ron OJ Parson, Eleni Pappageorge and Jose Anthony Garcia carry out their duties with charm and alacrity, while Peter DeFaria makes the most of his role as a surly landlord, but ultimately, what holds us spellbound is Daniel Smith's charismatic portrayal of the wistfully romantic neighbor whose return we await whenever he is absent.