THE THIRD FROM THE LEFT
nytheatre.com review by Michael Mraz
August 11, 2008
Is the chance to be a part of an iconic piece of artistic history (or any piece of history, for that matter) really worth letting your life crumble around you? That is the central theme explored in The Third From the Left, Jean Colonomos's drama about five dancers trying to recreate one of Martha Graham's masterpieces, "Primitive Mysteries," in a 1964 revival.
The Third From the Left focuses on the personal struggles of these five women as their devotion to the innovative dance piece and their drive to please the great Martha Graham dominate every aspect of their lives and push them to make decisions between their everyday relationships and their art.
There is Carmen, the cool, confident "know-it-all" constantly musing over Martha's creative process, but still plagued by an unhappiness that drives her to have an affair. Amanda has become so submerged in her ambition to become a full company member in the Graham company that she has all but forfeited her marriage. Lainie juggles an unstable, suicidal mother and her artistic obligations. Janet is hell-bent on proving that she's earned her place through talent, not because of family connections. And Fumiko has left behind Tokyo and a terminally ill father to follow her dream of working with the legendary Graham.
The five actresses do a superb job working together as an ensemble. Many passages of the script are spoken in unison, giving the feeling that they are one actor, one company. Their proficiency in creating this atmosphere early makes it all the more jarring when eventually in-fighting erupts, and their group begins to break into factions.
The script is at its best when delving into the personalities and lives of its five characters. Paula Christensen delivers a superb, complete performance as Carmen, brilliantly balancing her diva-ish confidence and security with even more effective moments where her façade slips and betrays her unhappiness. Jill Marie Burke's Amanda is instilled with a beautiful vulnerability that grows exponentially as her home life worsens and her chances at making the company get more and more dim.
Amy Danielson and Fran de Leon (as Lainie and Janet, respectively) have great chemistry together, however the script tends to neglect their personal plights. Each has interesting conflicts that are never fully explored. We don't see enough of the strain of Lainie's maternal problems come into her work or interactions with the group. However, it is Kari Lee Cartwright's Fumiko who is most slighted, receiving only a few passing mentions of her dying father and rarely getting any time to shine.
Throughout the script are sprinkled historical tidbits of Martha Graham and her history with "Primitive Mysteries," but when dispersed among the rich stories of the dancers, they seem a bit dry. You learn more of Graham from the women's accounts of her.
However, director Jon Lawrence Rivera's well-paced production and focus on the play's central theme, as well as the actresses' noteworthy efforts, balance these few pitfalls and make The Third From the Left a very worthwhile watch. It will at least make you think twice the next time you are forced to choose between life and work (and whether there really is any line between the two at all). The Third From the Left is a reminder that anything truly worthwhile in life puts us through as much torture as joy, but, in the end, the reward really is worth the ride.