by Robert Bullen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday June 15, 2009

Michael Gonring and Robin Lewis-Bedz
Michael Gonring and Robin Lewis-Bedz  

"Sometimes your protection becomes your own confinement," strong-willed Professor Laurie Jameson (Robin Lewis-Bedz) declares somberly at the end of Wendy Wasserstein's sharp and insightful play, Third.

This realization comes after discovering that the aggressively stubborn liberal values she's held over the past 30 years have gradually transformed her into what she fears most: a narrow-minded conservative.

"Third" is Wasserstein's final play, written while she was privately fighting her battle with cancer. It's representative of the Pulitzer Prize-winner's well-honed skill at blending feminist orthodoxies with humor, compassion and wit.

However, with "Third", Wasserstein bravely challenges the ideologies that characterized her earlier works, holding a mirror up to her own liberal beliefs.

And in Apple Tree's straightforward, no frills production directed by Sarah Gabel, the internal struggle for what's good and what's right comes front and center. Gabel also manages to bring some cohesion to an otherwise unbalanced play - after a strong first act, Act Two flounders a bit with choppy scenes.

Wasserstein sets the action in an unnamed, yet highly prestigious, liberal arts college in New England. There, middle-aged Professor Laurie Jameson rules the campus with an iron fist, having broken molds and blazed trails as a vocal feminist.

When Jameson is confronted by Woodson Bull III - a sly, preppy new student with a wrestling scholarship who likes to be called "Third" - she immediately categorizes him as another privileged white man, and dismisses him with disgust and anger.

However, when Third (played by the extremely charming and droll Michael Gonring) turns in a brilliant analysis of "King Lear", Jameson assumes plagiarism, albeit with no actual proof other than her own conviction, and sets out to have him expelled.

In Apple Tree's straightforward, no frills production directed by Sarah Gabel, the internal struggle for what's good and what's right comes front and center.

Third stands fast, declaring the work as his own, which only fuels Jameson's resolve (and her hot flashes).

As Professor Laurie Jameson, Lewis-Bedz zings off Wasserstein's witty one-liners with narcissistic flair. Her arrogant conviction to her long-held liberal beliefs is, from the onset, exasperating and transparent (and also wickedly funny).

She's nearly a walking clich? - reading books by Aborigine lesbians, wearing clogs, urging her daughter to demonstrate against the Bush administration, and attributing all the world's evils to white men. Her obsessive fight against Third exemplifies all that she finds wrong with society, all that she's fought against her whole life.

Jameson's crisis of life change is brought into relief by friends and family members who provide her with a healthy dose of reality, perspective and priority.

Her father, a tragic and sweet Jim Farrell, is suffering from advanced Alzheimer's, and her close friend and colleague Nancy, played by the warm and touching Susan Felder, is struggling privately with cancer.

And as a final emotional face slap, her jaded daughter points her finger at Jameson, announcing that she's moving in with her older, college-dropout boyfriend so she can avoid turning into her mother. With her core shaken, Jameson makes the right choice regarding her battle with Third.

And, in a breath of fresh air, absolution and ultimate liberation bring the play to conclusion.

Third is currently enjoying its Chicago-area premier at the Apple Tree Theatre in Highland Park, IL. The show runs through June 28, 2009.

Visit for more info.

A native midwesterner, Robert is a self-confessed Chicago theatre addict. You can read more about his addiction at