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By Wendy Wasserstein

September 29 - October 18, 2009

A liberal university professor finds her seemingly well-ordered life as mother, friend, and daughter thrown into disarray when she accuses a conservative student of plagiarism. Full of the smart dialogue and easy wit that made her famous, Wasserstein's last play is a thoughtful examination of politics, family and the unconscious misconceptions that still divide America.
Artwork by Brian Gabel / Open Stage Theatre & Co

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Current events hit home in provocative 'THIRD' 

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Darren Setlow photo courtesy of Portland Stage Company
Darren Setlow photo courtesy of Portland Stage Company
Jonathan McMurtry and Karen MacDonald in “Third.” MacDonald portrays Laurie, a college professor whose personal life is unraveling, and McMurtry plays her father, Jack, who suffers from rapidly progressing dementia.



WHERE: Portland Stage Company

WHEN: Reviewed Oct. 2; play runs through Oct. 18

TICKETS: $16-$36; 774-0465 orwww.portlandstage.org

The play is set in a prestigious New England liberal arts college during the 2002-2003 academic year. The United States is on the brink of war with Iraq, and the country is politically divided.

Laurie Jameson, portrayed by Karen MacDonald, is a strong-willed, opinionated professor at the college. She is obsessed with the news and rails at the injustices unfolding on the television.

In her personal life, things are unraveling: She's going through menopause; her husband is going through a midlife crisis; her father, Jack (Jonathan McMurtry), is suffering from rapidly progressing dementia; her best friend, Nancy Gordon (Maureen Butler), is battling breast cancer; and her youngest daughter, Emily (Sara Murphy), recently left for college.

Laurie's oldest daughter, who doesn't actually appear in the play, is a lesbian activist who previously moved to Vermont to make organic cheese.

The play opens with Laurie delivering a feminist deconstruction of Shakespeare's "King Lear." At the conclusion of the lecture, she is approached by one of her students, Woodson Bull III (Nick Dillenburg). Woodson, who prefers to be called "Third," is a wrestler who aspires to be a sports agent.

In Laurie's eyes, he is a privileged, frat-boy jock, a "walking red state," representing everything that she's against.

When Third later submits a paper on "King Lear" that is worthy of publication, Laurie wrongfully assumes he plagiarized it and brings him before the academic committee to defend his paper. He is placed on suspension, nearly destroying his academic career.

Portland Stage's five cast members bring such realism and depth to their characters that it's easy to forget that the characters, unlike the events unfolding around them, weren't a part of our recent history.

Butler and McMurtry capture every nuance of their characters' diseases, from the actions and looks to the emotional toll that the diseases take. Their performances are natural and utterly believable.

MacDonald is equally impressive as Laurie, bringing out all the facets and emotions of her character as she tries to come to grips with the turmoil in and around her life. Laurie's fantasized breakdown at the committee hearing is a must-see and quite funny.

"Third" takes a provocative, witty look at the events that have shaped, and continue to shape, our lives.

The play may be set seven years ago, but the issues raised strike a chord in Maine's current events. Names of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are still being reported on a regular basis, and heated debates over issues such as same-sex marriage and health care are dividing the state and the country as a whole.

Portland Stage couldn't have chosen a more timely and appropriate play to kick off the 2009-2010 season.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at:














About the Playwright 

Wendy WassersteinWENDY WASSERSTEIN (1950-2006) was one of the pioneers of feminist playwriting.  Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, she received an undergraduate degree from Mt. Holyoke College in 1971, an MA in creative writing from City College of New York, and an MFA in 1976 from the Yale School  of Drama. Wasserstein's career began with Uncommon Women and Others (1976), her graduate thesis at Yale.  This and her other works speak to what Charles Isherwood terms, "a generation of smart, driven, but sometimes unsatisfied women...trying to reconcile a desire for romance with the need for intellectual independence and achievement."  Her plays, which include Third (2005) Psyche in Love, (2003), An American Daughter (1997), The Sisters Rosens-weig (1992), Isn't It Romantic (1983), and The Heidi Chronicles (1988)-for which she won the Tony for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama-are characterized by often dark humor and intelligent portrayals of women. Wasserstein passed away from cancer at the age of 55. 


About the Cast

MAUREEN BUTLER (Nancy Gordon) Maureen is an affiliate artist with Portland Stage where she has appeared in Lettice and Lovage and will be doing her 5th season this year in A Christmas Carol. At the theater at Monmouth, she recently played Abby in Arsenic and Old Lace. She is also a member of The Fenix Theatre, having appeared in Taming of the Shrew this past summer and will be  seen as Maria in Twelfth Night next summer. Maureen is originally from the  Boston area where she professionally acted for many years. She adores the Portland theater community and is thrilled to be a part of it.

NICK DILLENBURG (Woodson Bull III) recently appeared as King Henry in a  critically acclaimed Henry V in New York City.  Prior to that, he played  Ferdinand in The Tempest  in Bermuda as part of the island's 400th  anniversary. Other credits include MCC Theater, The Guthrie Theater, Utah Shakespearean Festival, and Connecticut Repertory Theater. He holds an MFA in Acting from the University of Connecticut.

KAREN MACDONALD (Laurie Jameson) is a founding company member of the American Repertory Theatre, appearing in seventy productions. Most recently, she was seen in Trojan Barbie (Lottie), Endgame (Nell), The Seagull (Arkadina), The Communist Dracula Pageant (Elena), Cardenio (Luisa), Copenhagen (Margrethe), Donnie Darko (Kitty Farmer), Noel Coward: A Marvelous Party, Oliver Twist (Mrs. Bumble), The  Onion Cellar (Mother), Island of Slaves (Euphrosine), Romeo and Juliet (Nurse), No Exit (Estelle), Olly's Prison (Ellen), and in the title role in Mother Courage and Her Children.   Other regional credits include Gloucester Stage Company, Berkshire Theatre Festival, Boston Playwrights Theatre, Commonwealth Shakespeare Co. Vineyard Playhouse, Shakespeare and Co., Charles Playhouse, and Merrimack Repertory Theatre.  Directing credits include The Woman in Black (Gloucester Stage Company), Surly Girl (Boston Playwrights Theatre) and collaborating with Leslie Dillen and Paula Plum on Dressed Up! Wigged Out! (West End Theatre, Boston Playwrights Theatre) She has been the recipient of numerous Eliot Norton and IRNE Awards for her work in Boston and the surrounding area.  She has worked in New York at the Roundabout Theatre, Second Stage, Playwrights Horizons, the Actors' Playhouse, the Westbank and Theatre for a New Audience.  Nationally, she has worked at Hartford Stage, Berkeley Rep, Long Wharf Theatre, The Goodman Theatre, GeVa Theatre, Syracuse Stage, Buffalo Studio Arena, The Cinncinnati Playhouse, The Wilma Theatre, Houston's Alley Theatre, and The New Mexico Rep, among others.  Her film and TV work include Law and Order, What's the Worst That Can Happen? The Crucible, Orphan, and numerous projects for PBS/WGBH, including the award winning, Tupperware!   Karen is a graduate of Boston University's School of Fine and Applied Arts. She has taught Acting for Singers at the New England Conservatory and teaches Undergraduate Acting at Harvard University.

JONATHAN MCMURTRY (Jack Jameson) returns to Portland Stage where he portrayed Judge Francis Biddle earlier this year in Joanna McClelland Glass' Trying.  He has appeared in over 200 productions at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego since 1961, including Hamlet, Measure for  MeasureMacbeth, Winter's Tale, Henry IV, Henry V, Romeo & Juliet, Timon of  Athens, As You Like It, The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Rashomon, Dear Liar, Bus  Stop, American Buffalo, and Moby Dick- Rehearsed.  Some of his favorite roles  over the 48 years at the Old Globe have been: lago in Othello with Paul Winfield  and The Fool in King Lear with David Ogden Stiers, both directed by Jack O'Brian, and Vladimir in Waiting for Godot with Richard Easton.  He's performed leading roles in major regional theatres across the country and in Canada. Regional Theatres: Boston's Huntington Theatre, Syracuse Stage, Buffalo's Studio Arena Theatre, Indiana Repertory, Houston's Alley Theatre, Alaska Repertory, Arizona Repertory Theatre, South Coast Repertory, North Coast Repertory, Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theatres, Berkeley Repertory, and San Jose Repertory. Films: Beautiful Joe, Best Laid Plans, Little Nikita, The Settlement, and Point Blank.  TV: guest-starring roles on Eli Stone, Encore/Encore, Cheers, Wings, Almost Perfect, Frasier and Thirtysomething. Awards:  Los Angeles Drama Critics' Circle award-Uncle Vanya (1975), four San Diego Drama Critics Circle for "Outstanding Performance" (1987, 1992, 2005, 2007), the Craig Noel Lifetime Achievement Award (2008), and a San Diego County Board of Supervisors' Proclamation for his "outstanding body of work and service". Mr. McMurtry is a proud graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) and an Associate Artist of the Old Globe, where he teaches Shakespeare for the theatre's MFA Program.

SARA MURPHY (Emily Imbrie) An East coast native, Sara has been performing since the age of 9. She discovered her love for the theater on the island of Martha's Vineyard, where she held starring roles in the classic musicals Bye Bye Birdie and The Fantasticks. Sara earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting from the University of Southern California in 2006, where she had the opportunity to work with world-renowned directors and professors. Her most memorable role was that of Cassandra in The Trojan Women, directed by Lora Zane. Since graduation, her career has been in Los Angeles participating in local theater productions and independent films, including her role as Skinhead Girl in Naomi Iizuka's Polaroid Stories. Sara recently returned to the East coast, and is thrilled to be making her Portland Stage debut.

The Design Team

PAUL MULLINS (Director) returns to PSC where he directed Trying, Lettice and Lovage, and True West. Paul is a company member at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey where he has directed Noises Off, Private Lives, The Time of Your Life, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Richard II, Illyria, King John, The Illusion, Tartuffe, Rhinoceros, Measure for Measure, All's Well That Ends Well and The Threepenny Opera. Other regional credits: Twelfth Night, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Measure for Measure and Macbeth at The Old Globe; The Seafarer, Fat Pig, This Is How It Goes and The Russian National Postal Service at The Studio Theatre, DC; Twelfth Night at The State Theatre, Austin; The Swan, Much Ado About Nothing, Reckless, Two Gents and The Merry Wives of Windsor at American Stage; A Month in the Country, The Time of Your Life, Summerfolk at Yale School of Drama; and As You Like It at The Juilliard School.


ANITA STEWART(Set Designer) has worked as a set and costume designer at leading theatres across the country, including: the Guthrie, Seattle Rep, Canadian Opera Company, Minnesota Opera, A.R.T., Steppenwolf, Hartford Stage, Dallas Theater Center, Long Wharf Theatre, New York Theater Workshop, Boise Contemporary Theater, New Jersey Shakespeare and Portland Stage Company. Anita's desire to play a meaningful role as an artist in a specific community brought her to Portland Stage Company in Maine as Artistic Director, a company for which she had previously done significant freelance design.


KRIS HALL (Costume Designer) is very happy to be returning to Portland Stage after designing costumes here for Julius Caesar last fall. Some of her previous design credits include Pump Boys and Dinettes at Maine State Music Theatre; Doubt and Almost, Maine at the Public Theatre in Lewiston; Suor Angelica and The Tempest at USM (where she is also the Costume Director) as well as the feature length independent film Mr. Barrington.  Her sewing and design work has appeared on the cable TV show While You Were Out, as part of the Half Moon Jug Band set and on the stage at the Merrill auditorium.  Her work as a multimedia artist is featured in Add Verb Production's new play Major Medical Breakthrough which debuts this month at the International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Trauma, in San Diego, CA.  Kris received her BA in Political Science from USM and her MFA in Studio Art from MECA.  She also attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2006.


GREGG CARVILLE (Lighting Designer) started working in theater at Colby-Sawyer College as just a hobby, but then people started to pay him. He worked around Maine and New Hampshire and also spent five years in New York City. While in New York he received an MFA in lighting design from NYU - Tisch School of the Arts. His design credits include five seasons at Portland Stage in various positions. Currently Gregg is the technical director for Merrill Auditorium and the City of Portland. He continues to free-lance as a designer as well as provide consulting on various theatrical projects. Gregg has designed lighting for the Portland Stage productions of I Am My Own Wife, Noises Off, Augusta, Indoor/Outdoor, and Wait Until Dark and designed sound for Rough Crossing, Syncopation, and The Piano Lesson.


TOM WYATT (Sound Designer) Tom is glad to be back at Portland Stage Company, having last designed sound for Longfellow: A Life in Words for the Portland Stage Studio Series.  Other recent area work include light designs for, Company at Portland Players, Rent, Into the Woods, Aladdin, Sweeney Todd, and others for Stages Academy, and Madhorse's upcoming production of The Dresser.


MYLES C. HATCH (Stage Manager) is currently enjoying his 10th season stage-managing with Portland Stage. During the past eighteen years, Myles has worked in stage management with such diversified theatres as Maine State Music Theatre (ME), The Theater at Monmouth (ME), Arden Theatre Company (PA), Baltimore Shakespeare Festival (MD), Everyman Theatre (MD), Rep Stage (MD), Horse Cave Theatre (KY), New Stage Theatre (MS), Round House Theatre (MD), Source Theatre Company (D.C.), Washington Stage Guild (D.C.), Washington Jewish Theatre (D.C.), Asolo Theatre Company (FL), Westport Country Playhouse (CT), and the YALE Summer Cabaret (CT). Myles is a member of the Actors' Equity Association.





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