Third takes on many meanings in ‘Third’

Livia Genise and Jeannine Grizzard have banded together to produce “Third,” now playing at Carpenter Hall through Nov. 24.

The play, written by Pulitzer Prize winner Wendy Wasserstein, centers around an accusation of plagiarism by Laurie, an aging female professor, toward Third, a young male college student. She sees him as a stereotype rather than recognizing him as a unique individual.

“Third” is an intricate and intriguing play. It takes place at a small New England college at the beginning of the Iraq war. The conflict centers around two interpretations of “King Lear.” Hers is feminist, and his is Freudian. Those themes resonate throughout the play.

“Third” is skillfully directed by Grizzard, with powerful performances by Genise and a strong supporting cast, including Renee Hewitt, Adam Kilgore, Beth Boulay and Sig Dekany.

I chatted with Genise and Grizzard over lunch at Sesame Asian Kitchen.

EH: What is the main thrust of this play?

JG: The play is about intellectual honesty.

LG: And integrity and rediscovering your integrity, if you’ve lost track of it.

JG: Laurie thinks Third represents everything she spent her life fighting against — the power elite, the white men who are still running this government and this country, taking us to war. Her skill at literary criticism is the only thing she is relying on.

LG: She says to him, “There’s no way your mind could have written this paper.” She’s into stereotypes now, and she didn’t used to be. She’s got all the answers except that in her life, she doesn’t know where she is anymore, where she’s going or what’s important. She says, “If I can’t exercise the power to say that his paper is not original, what’s the point of my existence?”

JG: It’s very territorial. She thinks, “I can’t stop the Iraq war, but I can, by God, prove this guy is a plagiarist.”

EH: The title “Third” takes on many meanings.

LG: It’s third wave feminism. And its also the third part of your life. The older she gets, the more and more powerless she feels. She’s feeling invisible, as we women do feel, as we get older. The most important sentence in the play to me is, “When I was your age, I thought I could change the world, and all I did was change the English department.”

In so many plays, the women are incidental. Wasserstein writes about things that are real to women. The women are important in her plays. I’m fascinated by her writing. It’s riveting.

EH: You’ve both spent your lives in theater. What makes it so important to you?

JG: Working in theater has been a way to work with ideas more viscerally than writing essays and articles. I can create more of an emotional impact within the discussion of ideas. Our human constructs, our human perspectives, and how they intersect and conflict: If you do that in performance, there is a greater immediacy. And I think people will think deeper than if they just simply read something.

People go to monster truck rallies, or to Trump events, to get off all their anger. People who go to theater want their softer emotions expressed. They want to laugh; they want to cry; they want to empathize. That’s what we do for people, we give them a place to experience their emotions.

LG: It makes you keep thinking and keep challenging yourself. We have the opportunity to change people’s lives.

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