‘Third’ at Rockville Little Theatre by Jessica Vaughan

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FIVE STARS 82x15 (1)
Rockville Little Theatre‘s production of Pulitzer Prize winner Wendy Wasserstein‘s last play Third is layered, powerful, and very funny.

It’s set the year we went to war in Iraq on a college campus and concerns liberal lioness Laurie Jameson (Sarah Holt), a professor of literature whose life is getting a bit heavy with two college-age daughters, one of whom is home and unimpressed with college, a father who doesn’t remember his name, a husband who spends his time lifting weights in his daughters old bedroom, a new book she’s titled Girls Will Be Boys and about ten hot flashes a day. All of these myriad characters pepper her days between class, therapy, and CNN when a kid named Woodson Bull, the third, whom she calls “a walking red state,” writes a paper she is convinced he was not capable of writing and she accuses him of plagiarism. That accusation is less interesting than what it does to both of them through the play. 

Alex Badalov as Third, and behind is Sarah Holt as Laurie. Photo by Dean Evangelista.
Alex Badalov as Third, and behind is Sarah Holt as Laurie. Photo by Dean Evangelista.

This is not one of those tragedies that leave your guts ripped out on the floor by what humans can do to each other, though there are plenty of tragic moments, rather it is a commentary on the ordinariness and absurdity of those tragedies, large and small, and how we make sense of them with the opinions we cling to so dearly. Some of the action takes place in her class room, and it’s very clear Wasserstein enjoyed at least some of her liberal arts education in the way she has her professor rip apart King Lear and call him a fool. It is also a rare play that tackles politics, especially about that time in history, and remains neutral. It was interesting to watch what used to be news not so long ago become history and drama.

Like most Wasserstein plays, there are layers of symbolism, humor, and meaning in every single line and Director Lizzi Albert exploits them all, managing to bring together the many locations, confrontations, and moods into a solid whole. She keeps the pace moving and the play could have felt a little disjointed as we flash from Jameson’s home to Third’s job, to friends, and to family, but thanks to Albert’s expert handling of the script, it all came together beautifully.

Sarah Holt and Jill Goodrich. Photo by Dean Evangelista.
Sarah Holt and Jill Goodrich. Photo by Dean Evangelista.

Sarah Holt is fantastic in the main role. She carries the play, coming apart at the seams and stitching herself back together with aching slowness and yet laughing the whole way. Her impassioned defense of her plagiarism claim is a great moment  in the midst of a hot flash. Alex Badalov (Third) is a match for her in passion and handles the subtleties of this ambiguous role with humor. The other actors had to work hard to step out of the huge shadows these two cast. Nancy Gordon (Jill Goodrich) is Jameson’s friend battling cancer. Goodrich toes a careful line between heartbreak and pity. Jack Jameson (Stuart D. Rick) is sliding into Alzheimer’s and Rick is completely committed to the role, even to the point of tromping around stage in sopping clothes when his character is lost in a storm. Diana Partridge plays the daughter Emily who is home from college, and plays this part of rebellion with relish.

The set by Maggie Modig is made of levels of home, work, and dorms, managing to paint a picture of each with just a few set pieces, yet perfectly conjures the rich New England history so important to the reasons behind what happened at this old liberal arts college. Columns flank the set and a stained glass window center stage are all it takes to see the ancient campus. Snow and trickling fall leaves further set the mood. The costumes are well done by Crystal Fergusson. The middle age professor and the fresh-faced jock are well defined by what they wear.Sound Designer Kevin O’Connell has a big job because a soundtrack with news of the war, an entire judicial committee, and the music from the early 2000s conveys most of the outside world during the play.

For a nuanced and hilarious look at conservatives, liberals, liberal arts, and the last third of life we are all facing…sooner or later, check out Third by the Rockville Little Theatre. Be prepared to think, to laugh, cry, and just possibly change your mind.

Running time: Two hours with a 15 minute intermission.

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Third plays through February 3, 2013, at Rockville Little Theatre at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre at The Rockville Civic Center – 603 Edmonston Drive, in Rockville, MD. For tickets, call (240) 314-8690, or go to the box office at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, open Tuesday – Saturday from 2:00 – 7:00 p.m.