Playhouse adds on a dizzying ‘Third Story’
Published - 09/25/08 - 01:40 PM | 4707 views | 0 0 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Charles Busch (as the witch Baba Yaga) and Rebecca Lawrence (as Vasalisa) in “The Third Story” at La Jolla Playhouse. - PHOTO BY J.T. MACMILLAN
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They say the third story a writer writes is the best. One may question the truth of that statement on the way home from Charles Busch’s “The Third Story,” which opened in its world premiere at La Jolla Playhouse Sept. 21. A noted author and drag performer, Busch wrote the long-running off-Broadway hit “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom,” as well as the Broadway hit “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife” and “Die Mommie Die” (he starred in the recent film). He wrote a couple of roles for himself in “The Third Story,” commissioned by the Playhouse. As the name implies, it’s a madcap weaving together of three tales, one cut from the same colorful cloth as “Cinderella” and “The Firebird” a la Walt Disney; one a sci-fi /mad scientist/dying mother scenario; and the third, and least cohesive, about the mother from hell and the son that in her eyes at least is a failure.

The underlying theme of all the stories may be codependency: parents’ inability to let go of adult children, children’s reluctance to let go of parents and, most outrageously, the scientist loath to release the experiment gone awry. Because Busch is Busch, there is also a melodramatic, hilarious resonance with film. 

Some patrons departed at the interval, perhaps confused by the pace of the stories’ intermingling, perhaps finding it all a bit of stuff and nonsense. Others are still savoring the intricacies, motivations and deeper social meanings the morning after.

The requisite acting style for such ridiculousness (Busch was influenced by Charles Ludlam’s Theatre of the Ridiculous) is absolute sincerity and involvement, and director Carl Andress, in addition to being traffic cop, elicits the style with flair. He gets valuable assists from Lewis Flinn’s original music, David Gallo’s scenic design, Christopher Akerlind’s lighting, Walter Trarbach’s sound and Tom Watson’s vital and hilarious hair and wig designs. Gregory Gale’s costumes are a joy, especially the scientist’s designer-label lab coat.

If those production team credits sound like an ode to showbiz, so be it; but the actors are the thing. Foremost of course is Busch as Baba Yaga the Witch, who makes two princesses from one, and Queenie Bartlett, a desperate mother loath to depart this mortal coil without providing a clone for her incompetent, badly married son. Queenie’s Sam Spade-like “boy” is played by Jonathan Walker, whose moll is played by Rebecca Lawrence, also the princess and another character. Walker also portrays a reformed screenwriter in the third story. This fellow’s mother, who’s been involved with the greats of Hollywood, reveals long-held secrets about his birth. She is portrayed by Mary Beth Peil, who dons glasses as she walks from her son’s house outside Omaha, Neb., to become Dr. Constance Hudson’s lab assistant.

Jennifer Van Dyck plays the sex-deprived scientist (a sly reference to the defeminization of women who enter male-dominated professions). Dr. Hudson has discovered Baba Yaga’s secret of human duplication, well, kinda. Her “medical experiment gone wrong” is Zygote, brilliantly played by Scott Parkinson. His makeup, lumps, hair and attire are wondrous.

It’s a whale of a tale (or three) to swallow. The aftertaste is magnificent.

“The Third Story” continues at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 19 at the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive. For tickets and information, call (858) 550-1010 or visit n
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