Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
The play, according to Julie Salamon's biography "Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein," draws its inspiration from a time, in New Hampshire, when Wendy and her assistant met a young waiter at dinner. He told them his story and Wasserstein fictionalized, created true-to-life dialogue, and brought forth Third.
Laurie Jameson (Kate Levy, an actress who has starred at TheaterWorks previously) is a middle-aged professor at a prestigious liberal arts college. (One would think: Wesleyan.) She has a full plate of personal issues, since, foremost, her dear father Jack (Edmond Genest) has encroaching dementia. One of Laurie's daughters (through reference) prefers women while another daughter, Emily (Olivia Hoffman), prominent in this play, is grappling with coming-of-age troubles as she forges her own identity. We never see Laurie's husband who, one infers, is obsessed with exercising. Laurie's close friend and colleague Nancy Gordon (Andrea Gallo) has cancer which has recurred. Professor Jameson has hot flashes fairly frequently. All of that said, the individual with whom she virtually and verbally jousts is Woodson Bull, III (Connor M. Hamill). She immediately nicknames him Woody and he explains that he prefers to go by Third. This character is derivative of the youthful New Hampshire restaurant worker.
Third is blond, well-built, respectful but forthright, and a student who has written a paper about King Lear. Delving into the persona of one of Shakespeare's quite complex characters, he finds himself toe-to-toe with his esteemed teacher who is absolutely certain that Third has plagiarized. The play takes place during the George W. Bush era, including the decision to occupy Iraq, and Laurie Jameson thinks that Third must be a Republican. He did go to prep school. Ultimately, a university committee decides that Third is innocent. Jameson might have thought it unlikely (to understate) that a young wrestler whose vocabulary includes "awesome," has the smarts to write with such perception and dexterity. Others, including Nancy Gordon, back Third. Hence, the politically aware and correct Jameson, a feminist, must deal with the opinions of her peers.
Rob Ruggiero, directing here, is most proficient at telling storiesthrough his actors. This one is multi-faceted, instructive, and sometimes touching. If we do not know, literally, these people, it does not require a huge stretch to imagine them.
This is the 10th anniversary of the original production of Third at Lincoln Center; Wendy Wasserstein passed away not all that long after that opening. The TheaterWorks production includes several excellent scenes, and none is better than one, after intermission, in which Laurie is isolated with her father Jack. He no longer maintains mental acuity and even fails to recognize her. Laurie is affecting and filled with sympathy as she speaks with him. Jack is oblivious but somehow sweet. Levy was also sterling when she appeared at TheaterWorks previously in The Other Place. The current show once again places her center stage and she is poised, fervent, in complete control of her character. Genest is a veteran actor with a multitude of credits on New York City stages and at major regional theaters across the country. He is versatile and he is commanding. Actress Andrea Gallo imbues Nancy with fortitude and spunk.
Both young actors in the show, Conor M. Hamill as Third and Olivia Hoffman as Emily, show much promise. It is clear that each has been coached and trained well. Look for them to further succeed as they evolve with successive roles at many venues.
Thematically, Wasserstein's scripting is relevant, important and also fairly familiar. It reminds me of the story August Wilson, the prolific and penetrating playwright of the late 20th century, shared with me personally and with others. When he was a teenager in Pittsburgh, young August wrote an essay about Napoleon for his English teacher. That individual did not believe that August could have possibly written the paper and the student received an F for his efforts. August left high school and never did return. As I watched Third and considered its implications, the anecdote came to mind.
The production of Third at TheaterWorks reminds us of Wendy Wasserstein's vast talents, which included her articulation, dialogue, and understanding of human beings.
Third continues at TheaterWorks in Hartford, Connecticut through November 8th, 2015. For tickets, call (860)527-7838 or visit www.theaterworkshartford.org.