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“Third” by Wendy Wasserstein at Arts West | Arts Stage – Seattle Rage

“Third” by Wendy Wasserstein at Arts West

Oh Heidi! You were so au courant, so representative of the impassioned and feisty young women of the ’60s-’70s. In “The Heidi Chronicles,” as Wendy Wasserstein’s most dynamite character, you gave theatrical voice to those women who were waking up to the possibilities of a new day.

So who’s this Laurie, the opinionated harpy at the center of “Third,” Wasserstein’s last play before her untimely death? Have we changed so much? Is Laurie a vestigial reminder of a time gone by? Feminism demanded effort and action, but were we really so harsh, so convinced of our own intellectual authority?

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Photo Credit to Michael Brunk

In “Third” Laurie teaches literature at an unnamed but obviously prestigious New England college. As the play opens she’s lecturing on “King Lear,” offering the conceit that the tragedy of Lear is not his. It’s really that of his daughters Goneril and Regan. Don’t question her on this. She’s teaching a feminist point of view rather than literary analysis.

When one of the few males in the class, Woodson Bull III, (thus the “Third” of the title) suggests alternative ways of deconstructing the play she dismisses him as a privileged, moneyed, white, male jock, clearly not a thinker. As played by Mark Tyler Miller, he’s as engaging as she is off putting. She’s out to get him, and she does—with a charge of plagiarism.

Marty Mukhalian as Laurie, has roughened the few soft edges given to her by the playwright. Even in scenes where she should evoke our sympathies, I found it hard to like her. The closest she comes to compassionate is in the Lear-like rainstorm confrontation with her demented father as she tries to reason with him and take him home.

Third, as her foil, looks and moves just the way any privileged scion should. But he’s not that, and Laurie’s failure to see him as anything but a stereotype is just one of her character flaws. She’s not an understanding mother or a merciful friend, and her husband is smart to keep out of her way.

Burton Yuen’s set is nicely evocative. With a few well-placed doors and windows he creates a New England college and home.

Wasserstein is always provocative, and she’s a master at lacing thought provoking concepts with humor. Though this isn’t her best play, and Director Peggy Gannon’s take on it is too harsh, you’ll leave this theatre wanting to discuss what you’ve seen.

Through March 22 at Arts West, 4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle, Wednesdays through Sundays (206 938-0339 or www.artswest.org).

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