If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
A Dated “Third” Opens Season at TheaterWorks
The late Wendy Wasserstein was a definitive voice for women starting in the late 1970s when critically acclaimed plays of hers like “Uncommon Women and Others”, “The Sisters Rosensweig” and the Pulitzer Prize winning “The Heidi Chronicles,” put the playwright on the map. Her untimely death from cancer in 2006 prematurely ended her work. “Third”, her last play, serves as the rather curious opening production for TheaterWorks 30th anniversary season. The Hartford theatre would be better served with almost any of the playwright’s earlier works.
The play is set during one academic year (2002-2003) at a small New England college where Professor Laurie Jameson (Kate Levy), a doppelganger for Wasserstein if she ever truly wrote one, is much beloved by students and staff alike. Jameson is a die-hard liberal unafraid to voice her opinion and very much in line with the hyper-verbal, highly intelligent women who are the playwright’s trademark. Laurie’s perceptions are challenged, however, when she runs up against a new student, Woodson Bull, III (Conor M. Hamill in a likable TheaterWorks debut), who stands for everything that Laurie despises, or so she assumes. When Bull turns in an essay about “King Lear” that Laurie immediately feels is a plagiarized work, a battle of wills takes place. The play grapples with issues of false perceptions, stereotyping and college politics and most of it seems awfully familiar and old hat in 2015.
At TheaterWorks, the play also seems unbalanced. As written, Laurie is such a nagging downer, so self-absorbed and convinced that she is the smartest person in the room that, even if you are in the same political camp with her, you still want to distance yourself. This is particularly disappointing because Ms. Levy is a gifted actress whose last appearance at TheaterWorks, in Sharr White’s remarkable drama, “The Other Place”, garnered her the “Outstanding Actress” award from the Connecticut Critics Circle. In “Third”, however, the performance is all poses and posturing, saddled with Wasserstein’s endless verbal diatribes which become more and more wearying until you want to scream, “Oh do shut up!”.
As a result, Mr. Hamill’s Bull becomes the character you tend to root for and the actor’s easy, low-key charisma helps immensely. In other roles, Olivia Hoffman is fine as Laurie’s rebellious daughter, especially in her scenes with Hamill. Andrea Gallo, playing Laurie’s colleague undergoing cancer treatments (very personal material for Wasserstein), is slow to convince but comes into her own by the second act. This is also true of Edmond Genest who, early on, tends toward the hammy more often than not as Laurie’s Alzheimer’s-afflicted father.
Rob Ruggiero is one of the state’s finest directors but “Third” must register as one of his lesser efforts. Michael Schweikhardt’s set design on a rotating turntable is serviceable but, all told, the play is still the thing here and it ain’t much. Third-rate at best.
“Third” continues at TheaterWorks in Hartford through November 8. For further information and ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 860.527.7838 or visit: www.theaterworkshartford.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.