Are the East Coast liberals really any more open-minded than the Midwest conservatives? The late playwright Wendy Wasserstein did not seem to think so. In her play "Third," currently being performed at the Creole Gallery by the Peppermint Creek Theatre Co., Wasserstein lightly satirizes the complex yet insulated life of a radically progressive college professor and her hypocritical tendency to stereotype outsiders.
Director Chad Badgero has cast mostly Peppermint Creek regulars including Heather Lewis, Rachel Kabodian and Spencer Smith, all of whom have been better utilized in prior productions.
Laurie Jameson (as played by Lewis) is herself a walking contradiction. A 1960scharged feminist professor of literature with an empowered view of female characters, Jameson discusses her internal struggles with a Freudian psychiatrist. When new student Woodson Bull III (known as Third for short), played by Smith, submits a paper on "King Lear" that’s out of character with Jameson’s narrow perception of his abilities she accuses him of plagiarism, a decision that ultimately turns both of their worlds upside down.
Lewis physically and vocally personifies her character as Meg Ryan from the 1980s, completing her brown uniform with what appears to be a Farrah Fawcett-styled wig. Lewis is most engaged when sparring with Smith.
Smith is by far the most relaxed actor in the show. While his casual slouch seems at odds with his character’s confident deter mination, his natural charm overpowers his slipped lines, which actually occur in character.
Rachel Kabodian plays Jameson’s frustrated daughter with an apathetic stare, displaying her irritation with a shrug. Kabodian finally becomes magnetized in an all-too-short scene with Smith in which both actors turn the stage temperature from lukewarm to a satisfying simmer.
Sara Blossom plays Jameson’s friend, Nancy, although she seems to have difficulty walking and talking simultaneously.
And Mark Zussman plays Laurie’s demented father, Jack, as Mark Zussman.
‘Third’ has its shining moments of inspiration when the actors’ eyes light up, but the overall lack of polish in the form of stale acting and dropped lines leaves a sour taste from a theater company that normally is so sweet.
8 p.m. Thursday, April 29,
Friday, April 30, Saturday, May 1 and Sunday, May 2; 2 p.m. May 2 Creole
Gallery, 1218 Turner St., Lansing $15 adults, $10 students and seniors