Sunday, October 18, 2015

Review of "Third"

Kate Levy once again turns in a bravo performance at a Theaterworks production, starring in Wendy Wasserstein’s last scripted play, Third.  The show is provocative and thought-provoking, but contains too many disparate plotlines that undermine its primary focus.

Laurie Jameson (Kate Levy) is an arrogant, pompous and narcissistic college professor.  She is a star faculty member who prides herself on championing freedom of expression, both inside and outside the classroom.  However, her personal biases become apparent when Woodson Bull III (Conor M. Hamill), a white, male athlete (from a New England boarding school) takes her course.  He is personable and smart, but Jameson only sees a well-heeled Midwest Republican.  Her preconceptions and lack of judgement lead to a charge of plagiarism against the undergraduate.  This action not only damages the student, but also impairs the professor’s relationship with friends, loved ones and forces her to reevaluate long held beliefs and values. 

Wasserstein’s play would have been more powerful and captivating if she concentrated on academic integrity within the confines of a learned environment as well as society.  There are so many issues and angles to explore, especially in the Internet age.  However, in Third the plagiarism case only serves to explore one facet of Jameson’s multi-faceted persona, turning the play into more of a character study of the self-important English faculty member.  Alzheimer’s, rebellious children, dysfunctional family dynamics, and cancer (which the playwright was suffering from and died from soon after the play closed Off-Broadway) are probed, with varying degrees of success.  They provide the audience with a litany of hot button issues, but lessen the overall central impact of the show.

Kate Levy, who has previously been honored with the Connecticut Critic Circle’s Outstanding Lead Actress Award, skillfully displays a whirlwind of emotions as Laurie Jameson.  She is angry and sad, but also empathetic.  Unfortunately, her righteousness causes numerous problems for her and those within her sphere.  Levy adroitly handles all the emotional ups and downs of a character who has been in the teaching trenches for many years and is dealing with a number of personal crises.

Conor M. Hamill capably plays Woodson Bull III with both an intensity and a reserved zeal.  He needs to bring in more nuance to the role to make him more of a well-rounded character.   Andrea Gallo as Jameson’s teaching colleague, Nancy Gordon, brings a layered depth to her role.  She is combative, understanding and, by the end, a beaming ray of hope.  Edmond Genest as Jameson’s father is competently befuddled as a man in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s; and Olivia Hoffman is satisfactory as the confused, slightly rebellious daughter, Emily.

Director Rob Ruggiero proficiently guides the actors through their paces.  Some scenes can appear stilted and interactions can seem forced, but this has more to do with Wasserstein’s writing.  He is at his best in the dramatic settings when two characters are confronting or clashing with each other.

Third, playing at Theaterworks through November 8th.

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