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a Drama
by Wendy Wasserstein

COMPANY : Out of Box Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Artisan Resource Center
ID# 5286

SHOWING : June 08, 2018 - June 17, 2018



His name is Woodson Bull III, but you can call him "Third." And Professor Laurie Jameson is disinclined to like his jockish, jingoistic attitude. He is, as she puts it, "a walking red state." Believing that Third’s sophisticated essay on "King Lear" could not possibly have been written by such a specimen, Professor Jameson reports his plagiarism to the college’s Committee of Academic Standards. But is Jameson’s accusation justified? Or is she casting Third as the villain in her own struggle with her relationships, her age and the increasingly polarized political environment?

Director Zip Rampy
Jack Jameson Rial Ellsworth
Laurie Jameson Mary Claire Klooster
Woodson Bull III Michael Sanders
Nancy Gordon Mia Kirsten Smith
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by playgoer
Monday, June 11, 2018
Set designer (and director) Zip Rampy has done a very clever thing with Wendy Wasserstein’s "Third." The script calls for a variety of locations, but Mr. Rampy uses fixed furniture locations to suggest them all -- a kneehole desk center right, a tiny bar stand stage right, and a bench up left. The only change is swapping out a desk chair for a bar chair for one scene at the start of the second act. The stage floor has been expanded for this production, all the way to the audience left bank of seats. A row of audience chairs is also placed on either side of the stage, which does a fine job of suggesting the lecture hall setting of the first scene. The stage and walls are all painted black, with a green projection of the word "Third" on the back wall before the play starts and also at intermission and at the end of the play. Each scene starts with a blackout and a projection that suggests the location of the scene. The projections fade as Bradley Rudy’s lights come up to illuminate the scene, but the purpose of the projections has been served by that point. It’s a spare, simple set design that works beautifully in this production. Mr. Rampy’s sound design is equally impressive, with upstairs sounds actually appearing to emanate from above the stage.

Technical elements are not the only things Zip Rampy has done right. He has gotten fine performances out of his actors, and has blocked the minimal action on the large playing space to keep interest throughout. Ms. Wasserstein’s script introduces us to a somewhat prickly liberal feminist English professor (played by Mary Claire Klooster) and a self-professed jock student (Michael Sanders) who are at loggerheads throughout most of the show. The cast is rounded out by the professor’s college-age daughter (Ellie Styron), her Alzheimer’s-affected father (Rial Ellsworth), and a fellow professor (Mia Kristin Smith) who is battling health issues. Our sympathies are initially with the student, Woodson Bull III, but we eventually come to appreciate the lessons Professor Laurie Jameson learns about herself. It’s a strong script, and it’s played uncommonly well by this group of actors.

Ms. Klooster is a revelation as Laurie Jameson, thoroughly convincing at each moment in her journey from blind assurance to self-questioning doubt. Ms. Smith is equally convincing, especially in the physical aspects of her role, as her character experiences relapses and recoveries. Stick-thin Mr. Ellsworth makes Laurie’s father a sympathetic, heart-breaking character, and Mr. Sanders invests his role with all the qualities that make up the complicated character of a brilliant student whose life goals do not mesh with the liberal arts ethos of the college he attends. Ms. Styron does fine as the daughter, but doesn’t give her character the extra spark that the others do to transform their on-the-page characters into living, breathing embodiments of Ms. Wasserstein’s imagination.

The play centers on the time period at the start of the Iraq War, with liberal antagonism toward the Republican administration in full force. The times have changed, but this antagonism has, if anything, strengthened. That gives "Third" a bit of unexpected power in its well-balanced examination of antagonistic factions in U.S. politics and American society.

My only complaint about this production is that Mr. Sanders’ projection and diction leave something to be desired. His words tend to blend together, which can make some of his lines difficult to decipher, requiring close reflection on the collection of sounds he has just uttered. Nothing essential is missed, but it’s an element that keeps this production just this side of perfection. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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