Professor Laurie Jameson (Maureen Anderman), a middle-aged professor at a prestigious New England liberal arts college, meets an intelligent jock, a wrestler named Woodson Bull III (Graham Hamilton), who just likes to be called Third. When Third hands in his paper on King Lear, Laurie accuses him of plagiarism, saying that the paper was the work of a scholar, “not a wrestler.” From there we are taken on a personal journey into the crisis of a woman who has an ailing father (Jonathan McMurtry), a sick friend (Robin Pearson Rose), and a daughter (Halley Feiffer) who, much to Laurie’s dismay, is now an adult.
Third deals with issues of politics, ethics, stereotypes, feminism, and liberalism in a sharp, bitingly funny way; the humor initially makes you forget that you are actually thinking about the issues being presented, although you’ll leave the theater discussing them. The play is almost Shakespearean in scope and magnitude.
The execution, however, is not entirely successful; during at least one of the subplots, I felt as though the play would have lost nothing by eliminating those scenes entirely. On the contrary, it might have gained a sense of coherence, something it needed more of; it had no identity or cohesion, nothing keeping it together as it wove through comedy and drama, and many plots, with uneasy precision.
Despite the play’s flaws, it is very effective at presenting a vast array of issues while keeping audiences laughing and, ultimately, thinking. The issues, which are increasingly relevant in today’s political and social atmosphere, are examined thoroughly, so that once you’re done laughing at the sharp and effectively delivered humor, you think and question your ideas. This, combined with excellent performances by all involved, makes Third a well-done, effective play that is absolutely worth seeing.
Through February 3rd at the Boston University Theatre, Boston, MA.