Michael Brunk
Marty Mukhalian as Prof. Laurie Jameson and Mark Tyler Miller as Woodson Bull III with Kate Witt playing Prof. Nancy Gordon in ArtsWest's presentation of Wendy Wasserstein's THIRD now appearing March 5-22.

The Transparency of Prejudice: Wendy Wasserstein’s final work performed at Arts West Theater

By Emile Monte

Local actress Peggy Gannon has directed her first play for Arts West Theatre: Wendy Wasserstein’s final work before succumbing to cancer in 2005, Third. In the vein of Wasserstein’s other works, we find a strong, central female role surrounded by smart, secondary characters, heightened language, and political-ideological themes. In this case, a small liberal arts university professor of literature, Laurie Jameson, becomes unhinged when her feminist ideals are offended by the very essence of her new student Woodson Bull III, an outwardly stereotypical jock immediately accused of being a “living dead white man.” Already unsettled by the Bush administration, her father’s dementia, her best friend’s cancer, and her daughter’s decision to settle for a “nice” bank teller instead of a Guggenheim poet, Laurie accuses “walking Red State” Woody (who prefers to go by “Third”) of plagiarizing his brilliant Freudian interpretation of King Lear. As it turns out, Third is more than he seems, and through him, Laurie’s limitations and prejudices finally become transparent.

Transparency seems to be the image that dominates Gannon’s vision of Third. The set, designed by Burton Yuen, is constructed of a double door and windows in the style of an Ivy League university suspended from the ceiling, as if the walls—and agenda—of Laurie’s institution are utterly transparent—or nonexistent—, and look out onto a back wall of brooding clouds reminiscent of King Lear’s storm.

On the acting end, Marty Mukhalian cleverly unravels the layers of Laurie, on the one hand strutting, posing ironically, and making aggressive eye contact, and on the other hand undressing Laurie’s insecurities with believable fidgeting, blouse blowing, and, at one point, actual disrobing. Similarly, Mark Tyler Miller embodies well the role of Woodson Bull III by delivering ambiguity—he can seem both sincere and snarky at the same time. Most noteworthy of the secondary characters is Bill Higham as Laurie’s mentally-deteriorating father, Jack. Not only is Jack a well-written character who delivers an unexpected model of redemption to his daughter, but Higham captures the comedy and tragedy of Jack’s condition.

Wasserstein wrote Third at the height of her career while ever sinking into her terminal illness. She had her audience, and she had something a little different to portray to them than her usual unusual heroines fighting tooth and nail for independence. Her criticism of the other side of prejudice reveals an ultimately optimistic message about letting go of the fight and finding resolution with others no matter differences in belief.

Performances of Third will occur March 5-22, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $34.50 for adults, $31 for seniors, and $15 for youth under 25 years old.

ArtsWest is located at 4711 California Ave. S.W. in the West Seattle Junction. Call 206-938-0963 -office or 206-938-0339 for tickets. Or buy your tickets online here.

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