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Third

a Play
CATEGORY : DRAMA
by Wendy Wasserstein

COMPANY : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
ID# 3510

SHOWING : September 11, 2009 - October 11, 2009

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

The final play from celebrated, award-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein (The Heidi Chronicles). A liberal college professor and an articulate and conservative student jock nick-named Third face off over politics, ethics, and values. A bold accusation and mid-life changes unexpectedly throw Laurie Jameson’s well-ordered world into disarray. With her trademark smart dialogue, crackling wit, and intelligence, Wasserstein looks at the challenge of re-imagining ourselves in the third act of life.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Lisa Adler
Woodson Bull III Will Bradley
Nancy Gordon Marianne Fraulo
Emily Imbrie Cara Mantella
Laurie Jameson Mary Lynn Owen
Jack Jameson Tom Thon
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REVIEWS

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Blindsided
by Dedalus
Thursday, October 1, 2009
5.0
If you’ll forgive a biblical allusion from a crusty old skeptic like me, one of the wisest scriptural admonitions is the one against judging others. You know the line about motes and beams and not seeing your own forest when you’re picking on someone else’s trees. Ironic coming from a forum in which judgments trump private reflections every day, you may (and probably should) say.

Still, that is a major theme in the tightly written, densely themed, brilliantly performed, and compellingly staged “Third,” Wendy Wasserstein’s final play, currently running at Horizon Theatre. To say I loved every minute of this production would be an understatement – and, in truth, the intermission was an irritating interruption, so it’s not exactly true. But it is a show that is still lingering in my thoughts a full four days after seeing it (at the end of an already full four-play week).

Professor Laurie Jameson is entering the last third of her life. A typical Wasserstein heroine, she is driven, intelligent, progressive, and at war with the male-dominated culture in which she lives and works. But she has made a difference, integrating a previously all-male academic conclave, producing work after work of what we’re told is staggering genius, and influencing thousands of students for at least three decades. But, she is in the midst of a bout of mood-swings and hot-flashes (and all that implies), her children have grown and fled the nest, her best friend is on a roller coaster of cancer remission and relapse, her father has lost touch with the present, and her husband has his own life and escapes.

Of all times for Woodson Bull III, to enter her life! She is just not in the mood for this white and privileged jock to mix around with her passionately devoted literature students! When he turns in a paper on “King Lear” that he could not possibly have written himself, she does her duty and reports him for plagiarism.

The only problem is, Woodson Bull III (who prefers to be called “Third”) is anything but privileged. He is the son of a small claims lawyer, getting by on a wrestling scholarship and a part time job. He is also fiercely intelligent, fiercely charming, and did, in fact, write the paper he is accused of plagiarizing. And Professor Jameson’s vendetta against him almost ruins his life.

Third seems at first to a typical Wasserstein “villain,” and, in her earlier work, he would have remained so. But she is interested here in much more than condemning a societal imbalance. She is turning her spotlight on “her own people,” the progressive intellectuals with whom she freely identified, and wrote about. This is Wasserstein in a reflexive vein, asking the elusive question, “How can we change the world when we cannot recognize our own blind sides and weaknesses, our own ill effects on our students, on our friends, on our families, on those we love the most?”

So, while the driving motor of the plot is the plagiarism story, its heart and soul is the personal journey of Dr. Jameson, brilliantly played by a Mary Lynn Owen. Ms. Owen anchors the play with her intelligence and wit, with her exasperation at the by-now clichéd effects of menopause, and even with her many infuriating (but somehow endearing) flaws. She has a heart too big for the stage when playing scenes with her best friend (Marianne Fraulo), her youngest daughter (Cara Mantella), and her father (Tom Thon). But when she first meets Third (Will Bradley in what deserves to be a star-making performance), she sees only what she expects – her heart clangs shut so hard and fast, you can almost hear the key drop out and fall into a bottomless pit. Re-opening that lock after she realizes what she has done (and how wrong she was about Third) is probably the most difficult thing she has ever had to do, and it is enthralling watching Ms. Owen make that arduous step.

I can’t end this discussion without also praising Lisa Adler’s staging and the design work by Jeffrey Weber (sets) and Bryan Rosengrant (Lights). Ms. Adler has chosen to “cover” the numerous scene changes by starting and ending each scene with a single character on stage, in a tightly focused light, while the smoothly choreographed changes occur behind them. This lets us see the characters as they each continue on their personal journeys, either reflecting on what has just occurred, or planning what is to come next. Incredibly difficult to pull off (actors being required to tell us without words, what they are doing there, why they are remaining, or why they are in the scene before anyone else), this cast succeeds admirably. This device constantly reminds us that we are watching real characters, blind-sided by their own choices and those of people they thought they knew. This makes their story all the more compelling, its interrupting intermission all the more irritating.

To end on a personal digression, I’ve been attempting, in these columns, to fashion a “memoir-based” critical aesthetic, trying to articulate the theory that any reaction to a play owes more to the viewer’s experiences, expectations, and mood, than to any academic “critical standard.” I’ve brought a lot of my own life (some would say too much) into their composition so that you can understand my own mindset when I’m reacting to a play. In a way, I’m trying to let self-reflection batter at the citadel that is judgment. Still, you would be surprised how often I’m blindsided by reactions to my comments, by prejudices I didn’t know I had (or naively believed I actually had under control).

Wendy Wasserstein was taken from us far sooner than she expected. When she wrote “Third,” there was no way she would have know she was in the final fraction rather than the final third of her own life. Being in the final third of my own, I can only wonder if I’ll be blind-sided the same way she was.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


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Still in mind by uppermiddlebrow
Thank you to Brad and Playgoer for steering us to Horizon's 'Third.' Definitely good theater based on the 'still coming to mind days later' test. Thought-provoking and strongly acted.

I had more questions than you two did about character development in the play, though. A line towards the end about Nancy always having been negative seemed unwarranted by what we'd seen of her, unless one expects someone whose breast cancer has recurred to be thrilled about it. The daughter's rebellion seemed over the top, too. I'd have been happier to see her in a relationship with Third at the end, rather than with some loser bank teller. (I must be an incurable romantic and I do find Cara Mantella fascinating.) A related problem was frequent reference to too many off-stage characters with dei ex machina influence - the husband, daughter's boyfriend, lesbian daughter ...
And the apology in the final scene was a bit of a non-apology. Maybe the whole play is too much of a slice of life to have dramatic unity, too messy? I wonder if Wendy Wasserstein would have re-written the play and tightened it up had she lived. Sad that we'll never know.
First-First-First-Rate
by playgoer
Saturday, September 12, 2009
4.5
Horizon Theatre Company's production of Wendy Wasserstein's "Third" is anchored by the masterful performance of Mary Lynn Owen as Professor Laurie Jameson. A rather prickly academic with an intellectual backbone of certainty, Laurie is brought to life as a multi-faceted, serious-minded mother/daughter/friend/professor by Ms. Owen. The highlight of her performance, to me, was her session with a silent, offstage psychiatrist. Throughout, she played the emotion of the scenes truthfully, while still mining the comedy ever-present in the script.

The supporting cast supports her wonderfully. Marianne Fraulo does a particularly nice job as cancer (non-)victim Nancy, giving her a slightly raspy voice and weary manner. Tom Thon, as Laurie's father, and Cara Mantella, as her daughter, bring out different aspects of Laurie's character that show a contrast to the confrontational tone she consistently takes with Third (Woodson Bull III, played by Will Bradley). Will Bradley plays a college student convincingly, and conveys a warm optimism in the first act that makes his character immensely likeable. Mr. Bradley continues to show the great promise evidenced in Stage Door Players' recent "Pippin."

In the second act, there's a reversal of optimism and cynicism, and the script takes a more serious (or at least less humorous) turn. This makes the second act less pleasurable than the first, which is part of Wendy Wasserstein's point. It's the third act of life that Laurie Jameson is facing, and her experiences in the first two acts will lead to a more balanced future.

The set, designed by Jeffrey Weber and lit by Bryan Rosengrant, works extremely well. While at first appearing to be an elegant unit set with fixed walls, it soons transforms itself (with the help of a hard-working stage crew) into a variety of locations. Lisa Adler has staged the scene transitions with appropriate in-character movement to keep the action flowing.

Sadly-missed Wendy Wasserstein has created a play vaguely reminiscent of "Oleander" and "Spinning into Butter" in overall situation, but with the emphasis strongly on character rather than on plot. With first-rate actors in the roles, the characters come vividly to life. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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