Wasserstein’s ‘Third’ shines

The late Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein has been described much like the women she wrote about: witty, tender, warm and immensely popular, yet deeply committed and serious.

TheatreWorks presents the regional premiere of her last play, “Third,” at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts from Jan. 16 through Feb. 10.

“Third” is about Laurie Jameson, a professor who is at a crossroads in her seemingly well-ordered life. The wife, mother, daughter and educator is thrown into disarray when she accuses student Woodson Bull III (“Third”), a wrestler and preppy type, of plagiarism. Laurie also doesn’t happen to think much of him because he is a privileged white man who reminds her of the government’s power elite.

Third goes on to accuse the professor of harassment and reverse discrimination. The scenes that follow force Laurie to question the values and ideals she has clung to most of her life.

In her TheatreWorks debut, New York-based Elizabeth Norment plays Laurie, whom she describes as a tough feminist who doesn’t reveal her inner self.

“Inside, Jameson is in turmoil, in a state of chaos, not able to control and manipulate her circumstances,” Norment says. “We see definite change happening. I also present myself as self-possessed, strong and in control. But inside I have the same volcano of insecurities and self doubt. Finding the right balance between the iceberg and volcano is challenging.”

Bay Area actor Craig Marker, who plays Third, describes his character as the black sheep of the liberal arts school who wants to experience something new.

“In Act 1, Third comes across as a happy-go-lucky guy interested in learning,” Marker says. “However, in the second act, when he is accused, his whole world is thrown upside down. Similarly, when I was on the soccer field in high school, a friend encouraged me to audition for ‘Antigone.’ Although I was alien to it, I tried out and got a part, starting my acting career.”

The show’s award-winning director, producer and playwright, Kirsten Brandt, has always admired Wasserman’s work.

“Although it is set in 2002, the anxiety of culture hasn’t left us,” Brandt says. “We are still living in a state of evaluation on what we are doing. The theme is based on our own beliefs, seeing people as individuals, not stereotypes. We subconsciously do reverse discrimination, not listening because of our own assumptions. We need to look beyond race, gender, religious belief and listen in a positive way, showing respect for others.”

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. The theater is at 500 Castro St. Tickets are $21 to $57, with discounts for students and seniors. For more information, call (650) 903-6000 or visit theatreworks.org.

jgross@examiner.com

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