In a 2011 feature that appeared here in advance of his first production at Two River Theater, Broadway star Michael Cumpsty confided a desire to someday portray Shakespeare’s wizened and world-weary King Lear. And for his third mainstage project in Red Bank, the Tony-nominated actor turns director for a play that, while it’s not Lear per se, has been recognized for its deep parallels to the Bard’s classic.
It’s the aptly named Third, the final work by the late Pulitzer-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein (whose Heidi Chronicles was one of the first plays ever produced by Two River Theater Company), and a dynamic character study that closes out the landmark 20th season for TRTC, with an engagement that goes up in previews on May 31, opens on June 6 and continues through June 22.
Before all that, however, the public is invited to slip through the side door for a sneak peek at the play in progress — during a Friday evening open rehearsal that affords an up-close look at director Cumpsty, at work with a cast headlined by a well-known actress of TV and film.
She’s Annette O’Toole, an Emmy nominee (for The Kennedys of Massachusetts, which also featured Cumpsty in a small role) with decades of credits in such series and miniseries as Stephen King’s It, Smallville and The Huntress, as well as big-screen items like Superman III and 48 HRS (to say nothing of her memorable midnight swim in 1982’s Cat People). She even picked up an Oscar nomination as a songwriter for A Mighty Wind, a collaboration with her husband Michael McKean (Spinal Tap et al) — himself currently visible on Broadway, as J. Edgar Hoover to Bryan Cranston’s LBJ in the hit All the Way.
O’Toole stars as Laurie Jameson, a middle-aged maverick Lit professor whose own somewhat contrary ideas about King Lear are challenged by a student named Woodson Bull III (the “Third” of the play’s title) — a young man who comes to represent everything the academic despises, to the point that she declares his brilliantly written paper to be a work of plagiarism. Christopher Sears is Third, in a company that further features Emily Walton, JR Horne and Amy Hohn.
As Cumpsty (who co-directed his own Off Broadway starring turn as Richard III) sees it, the play “is about a woman with very firmly held opinions; who believes they are right and good, but who has not been able to see any other person’s point of view… it’s filled with dynamism, combativeness, wit, intelligence, and good humor.”
Seating for the 7:30 pm open rehearsal is free of charge, but reserve your place by calling the box office at (732) 345-1400 — and stay tuned to redbankgreen for more, much more, on Third.