The Third Story by Charles Busch, directed by Adam Zahler and featuring Rick Park as “Queenie.”
Titanic Theatre Company, August 9-18, 2012, The Arsenal Center for the Arts Black Box The Titanic Theatre Company Homepage
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Reviewed by Kitty M Drexel
(Watertown, MA) The Third Story is Charles Busch’s devotional to Mothers and their Mama’s Boys everywhere. Screenwriter Peg lures her son Drew back into the business via a narrative of Gangster Noir, B-movie Sci-Fi, Russian fairytale and the kind of motherly affection psychologists use to warm their couches. Peg’s excuse is McCarthyism but her vehicle is a journey through the psyche of a co-dependent man emotionally unprepared to leave the nest. Titanic Theatre Company presents their inaugural performance with a strong cast and committed ensemble. This is not an easy script to maneuver, Busch uses vignettes to quickly transition from one scene to another in what could quickly become a cluster fluff of actors. Fortunately for us, Director Adam Zahler engaged props, costumes and musical cues to clearly indicate scene changes as the story unfolded. The actors took responsibility for their scenes by integrating these potentially distracting elements by using them as if they were a natural extension of the cast and set.
Third Story features three very different scenarios to explore the mother-son relationship. Actors are double cast as their psychological doppelgänger in each plot thread; for example, Queenie (Rick Park, who flawlessly employs the feminine guile of a bull in a China shop) the mob boss with a heart of bronze also plays Baba Yaga, the wise crone archetype. The character transitions were not as seamless as the scene transitions – this worked well for our cast as it gave the audience an opportunity to digest the changes as they occurred.
From the get go, our actors were tied to the script and supportive to each other as the play unfolded. The chemistry between the actors was magnetic. They were clearly having as good a time on stage as the audience was off of it. Zygote (Brett Milanowski), was particularly notable for his use of physical comedy to enhance drama without chewing scenery. Milanowski evoked compassion from his audience despite the many, many faults of his loathsome character.
Busch’s plays are known for their camp. For a Busch play to be truly successful, an ensemble must commit to the script with the severity of a Shakespearean scholar but with their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks. While it appeared that most of the cast understood the message Busch transmits in The Third Story, some of the actors were not in the joke. Very talented they may be but some missed their mark in their approach to Busch’s lines.
Congratulations to Titanic Theatre Company on their opening show! May all your future performances be as engaging and successful as this one.