We first meet Professor Laurie Jameson in her classroom where she is letting you know what King Lear is really about and who the heroes truly are. She says she wants you to ask questions and challenge her. Jameson, a celebrated professor teaching a feminist literary criticism course at a small, prestigious New England college, is in that muddled, middle place of hot flashes, coming to grips with a college age daughter moving away from her, caring for her aging father and wondering how the hell she got here. Add a dire health crisis of a dear friend and a bright, handsome student that indeed challenges her and it converges to create the perfect storm of misplaced judgements, loss and reckoning.
South Pasadena Theatre Workshop’s production of “Third”, Pulitzer Prize winning author Wendy Wasserstein’s final play is a provocative exploration of the human condition as seen through each of the fascinating characters. Sydney Walsh’s direction has a fast paced, East Coast edge to it which works beautifully in contrast to some of the more poignant, silent moments.
The cast is stellar, top to bottom, with Sally Smythe giving a simply exquisite performance as Jameson. She’s a tough woman who prides herself on her intellect and Smythe plays this passionate professor with conviction and then crushes you with her raw vulnerability. Matching her head on is the charming Justin Deeley, as Woodson Bull III, who is as affable as she is tough. She can’t quite figure him out and Deeley does a terrific job of keeping the audience and the professor guessing. Madeline Godwin, alternating with Gabriella DelHoyo in the role of daughter, Emily, does a beautiful job of playing the daughter who desperately needs to break free of her mother’s expectations. Godwin strikes just the right note of acting like she doesn’t care when really she cares deeply and longs for acceptance. Katie MacNichol is brilliant, funny and acerbic as Jameson’s colleague and friend who is navigating just how to deal with a very serious crisis of her own while listening to, what appears to her, to be Jameson’s inability to be present in her own life. The cast is rounded out by Dennis Madden in a heartbreaking, at times funny and all too realistic portrayal of the aging father suffering the later stages of dementia.
The design team does an excellent job of turning this lovely black box theater into a college campus, a kitchen, a bar and a dorm room with turning flats that glide seamlessly from indoor to outdoor, simple pieces of furniture that serve multiple purposes and subtle lighting to indicate fall leaves, a cold winter evening and bright spring. The whole endeavor is sophisticated , thought provoking and succeeds on all levels. Wendy Wasserstein’s play takes you on an emotional journey and with these gifted actors as traveling companions, it is a trip worth taking.
“Third” runs Friday and Saturday evenings at 8pm, Sundays at 5pm through May 29 and will be dark the weekend of May 13. Purchase tickets online at southpasadenatheatreworkshop.com. Tickets also sold at theatre box office one hour before curtain for $20 cash only, first come first serve. Recommended 13+. 1507 El Centro Street, South Pasadena.