This story was corrected on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. An explanation follows the story.
Starting on Friday, Rockville Little Theatre presents “Third,” the final play from contemporary playwright Wendy Wasserstein, who died of lymphoma at age 55 in 2006.
“I think Wendy Wasserstein (was) very much of her time,” “Third” director Lizzi Albert said. “She was so receptive of the time she was writing about and gives snapshots of the recent past.”
Albert directed another Wasserstein play, “Uncommon Women and Others,” while she was an undergrad acting student at New York University.
“Third” is set in 2002, just after the United States’ invasion of Iraq. Laurie (Sarah Holt) is a professor at a small liberal arts college in Massachusetts and is experiencing somewhat of a midlife crisis.
“Laurie is facing a lot of tumults,” said Holt. “She’s baffled why everything feels so empty for her ... I think that’s very normal, and there’s a point in life when you start to lose your grip on things that were your foundation.”
Despite the challenges she’s facing in her own life, Laurie is a popular professor among her students, priding herself on openness and encouraging her students to speak out and challenge her.
But when a new student, Woodson Bull III, or “Third” (Alex Badalov), who is described as “an athlete, a Midwesterner and someone who is on the fence politically,” turns in a paper that seems too good to be true, Laurie finds her own, liberal belief system is tested.
“For the professor, it’s her confronting her own biases,” Badalov said. “ ... She says (her class) is a no judgment zone, but it turns out that she does hold biases against someone like me.”
The naturalistic play struck a chord with the “Third” cast and its director.
“What’s cool about this show is this is my first really solid realism piece,” Badalov said. “You’re not a character. You’re a person ... it’s real. It’s college in 2002.”
“It calls for a lot of grounded and truthful style in acting,” Albert said. “You can’t really hide behind a more theatrical style.”
But the play’s honesty helped its actors to find truth in the people they portray.
“The character is definitely relatable,” said Badalov, who like Third, is a college student. “The teacher has a problem with him, and I certainly can relate. I’ve been in those situations, not as extreme as this, but you can certainly relate to that idea of no one is really listening to you.”
Holt said although she’s been familiar with “Third” since it opened in 2005, she only recently became “the right age” to play Laurie. Identifying with her character was a natural process, especially when it came to understanding the emotions surrounding the loss of a parent.
“ ... I’ve lost my mother ... and when you lose your parents ... it’s just shocking,” Holt said. “You can’t believe you’re in a world without your mother.”
“(‘Third’) speaks to being in your middle age,” Albert said. “There’s a lot being asked of you on both sides ... having parents who are starting to age at the same time you’re having children who are striking out on their own.”
While “Third” might focus specifically on the college-aged and the middle-aged, Holt said the show speaks to everyone.
“It’s quite multi-generational,” she said. “I think a lot of different ages will get a lot out of it.”
“The sort of main thrust of the play is being able to see a person for who they really are,” Albert said. “Instead of projecting what you think they are and who you want them to be.”
Lizzi Albert directed “Uncommon Women and Others” as an undergraduate at New York University, not “The Heidi Chronicles,” as was stated in the original story.