Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Deb Margolin's Three Seconds in the Key
Is a Moving Drama

Also see Richard's reviews of Frozen and The Pillowman

Amy Resnick, Gideon Lazarus and Paul Oakley Stovall
SF Playhouse is presenting the West Coast premiere of Deb Margolin's poignant semi-autobiographical drama Three Seconds in the Key through February 17th. Leigh Fondakowski, who directed Peoples Temple and The Laramie Project, combines her high school basketball career as point guard (all-state first team) with her success as a theater director to bring this drama to life.

Three Seconds in the Key was first presented at Performance Space 122 in New York during the winter of 2001 (Deb Margolin played herself). The New York Times called it "a fiercely good play." Ms. Margolin's play is about her own life fighting Hodgkin's disease (she is now in remission). The play is also about her eight-year-old son who is crazy for the New York Knicks basketball team (the term "three seconds in the key" refers to the amount of time players are allowed to stay in the key shaped zone beneath each basket).

The drama opens with a twenty-minute monologue in an amazing performance by Amy Resnick, as she lies on the sofa in bathrobe and fuzzy slippers, weak from chemotherapy. She reflects over a discouraging inability to smoke marijuana which has curative effects on the nausea that comes with the treatment. The character connects with her son over the New York Knicks. They are seen glued to a television set watching a New York Knicks game. On the other the side of the small stage are the players playing the game. After the game they chant their theme song: "I refuse/ I refuse to lose/ I refuse to fail/ I refuse to die." This becomes the mantra of the sick mother.

Three Seconds becomes surreal when a key player of the team projects himself into the mother's living room for a wonderful one on one confrontation. The first words he says are, "I got your call, Mother." You get the feeling that God has sent this player to help the woman in her time of need. Earlier, she told the audience that God comes to you only when you're alone.

The mother and the player argue about many things, especially religion; the mother is Jewish. There is a hint of anti-Semitism in the player's dialogue. He takes note of the way Jewish people mumble "schvartz" (which means "black") under their breath when a black person walks by. The mother says that every word in Yiddish sounds insulting. The discussion is about both groups having been slaves in past generations and the common ground that can unify the races in spite of cultural differences. The player becomes intense when there is a debate about the mother's weakness of spirit. Finally, after yelling "I'm fighting for your life," she gets the message and achieves a lovely resignation that gives her hope for the future.

There is a lot of discussion about the basketball game itself and this is explained to the audience by the mother. The drama also features snippets of the game being played by five very talented actors, and several excellent scenes of the five players discussing several bible passages.

Amy Resnick (Orson's Shadow, Brooklyn Boy and Small Tragedy) gives a commanding and nuanced performance as the mother. Gideon Lazarus (a seventh grader who also appeared in Our Town and Brundibar at Berkeley Rep) give a solid performance in his first major role on stage. Paul Oakley Stovall (New York Dessa Rose, Notebooks of Leonardo de Vinci) is outstanding as the player who "visits" mother. The other basketball players (D. Harper, Casey Jackson, Skyler Cooper and Chris Walsh) are excellent as members of the Knicks team.

Bill English has devised an interesting set on the small stage of the playhouse: a basketball court with a large armchair in the center left of the stage. There is a small toy backboard on the left side and a regulation one on the right side.

Three Seconds in the Key plays through February 17th at the SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter St, San Francisco. For tickets please call 415-677-9596 or go to

Photo: Zabrina Tipton

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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