Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

A First Rate Third at Arts West

Kate Witt and Marty Mukhalian
Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning dramatist Wendy Wasserstein's The Heidi Chronicles, The Sisters Rosensweig and An American Daughter all premiered at Seattle Repertory Theatre, but her final play, Third, was produced Off-Broadway in 2005 just prior to her untimely passing in 2006 and is only now receiving its Seattle premiere. Arts West Theatre's production is smartly directed at a crackling pace by Peggy Gannon and performed by a fine ensemble of actors who embody their roles with dignity, finesse and a very natural style which makes Wasserstein's warmth and wit sparkle.

Professor Laurie Jamieson is a revered, ultra-liberal, tenured staff member at an elite New England liberal arts college. One of her students, Woodson Bull III (his friends and family call him "Third") is an articulate, and perhaps conservative, student/wrestler whom Laurie unfairly types as as a Groton-educated, white, ruling class, greatly entitled individual, when in fact he comes from an old family that lost its money. Third has a passion and knowledge for King Lear which Laurie disputes as she charges him with plagiarism for a paper on the play, bringing him to a hearing with faculty. The outcome of the hearing and its ramifications on both their lives is at the center of Wasserstein's narrative, contrasted with Laurie's challenging relationships with her college aged daughter, declining elderly father, and unseen husband, as well as a close colleague who is grappling with a second bout of cancer. The play might be classified as second-tier Wasserstein, but the dialogue is crisp, the characters are relatable and not stock—who among us in school or other areas of life has not had to grapple with a Laurie Jamieson, who challenges us in a way others may never have?

As Laurie, Marty Mukhalian embraces her self-satisfied character, warts and all, but takes the chill off her just enough so that we can see the erosion of her smug superiority as her professional and personal challenges inform the future course of her life. Mark Tyler Miller etches an appealing portrait of Third, a genuinely nice, smart guy who perhaps gains some life armor through his academic disillusion. Kacey Shiflet hits the right notes as Laurie's daughter Emily, making it clear that loving a parent you don't necessarily like or agree with much is challenging, and a scene between Miller and Shiflet where she inadvertently gets an earful on her Mom from Third is a highlight of the show. Bill Higham is humorous and poignant as Laurie's father Jack, and he and Mukhalian soar in a scene in which Laurie has to go after her wandering father. Finally, in a performance that is wise, wry and utterly honest, Kate Witt as Laurie's colleague Nancy Gordon simply sparkles, in perhaps Wasserstein's best developed character in the script.

The set and lighting designs by Burton Yuen are attractive, with a single set suggesting various locales effortlessly. Anastasia Armes' costumes look precisely like what these comfortable upper middle class folks would wear, and Johanna Melmed's sound design also meshes well.

Third runs through March 22, 2014, at Arts West Playhouse, 4711 California Ave SW. For tickets, visit

Photo: Michael Brunk

- David Edward Hughes