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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel


  Sarah Rafferty and Charles Busch/Joan Marcus

A 1940s melodrama costarring Kathleen Turner and Charles Busch , who wrote the play, sounds like a lot of fun. As it turns out, however, The Third Story is only sporadically entertaining. Busch is in fine form as a hard-boiled mob queen, employing expert timing and his patented tough-broad delivery that recalls straight-talking Hollywood dames like Barbra Stanwyck and Joan Crawford. But Busch's plot, which involves three storylines, is a convoluted mess.

Turner plays washed-up screenwriter Peg, who visits her son Drew (Jonathan Walker) in Omaha to persuade him to collaborate on a script with her. She comes up with a plot that mixes gangsters and scientists, and as she imagines it the characters appear on stage to act out her story. Busch plays Queenie Bartlett, a gangster moll who tries to sound ladylike but is tough as nails beneath her facade. Walker plays Queenie's son Steve, and Sarah Rafferty is his girlfriend (who doesn't pass muster with Queenie). Jennifer Van Dyck plays Dr. Constance Hudson, whose experiments in cloning produced a botched creature named Zygote (Scott Parkinson). Turner enters the story herself, putting on a thick German accent as Dr. Rutenspitz.

Complicating matters even further, Busch adds a fairy tale in which he dons a fright wig to play an old witch named Baba Yaga. This subplot, which is too loosely connected to the other storylines, centers on a princess (Rafferty) who cuts a deal with Baba Yaga.

The result is a mishmash of genres, themes, and acting styles. Busch's ambitious concept is interesting but proves to be unwieldy. He seems to have spent too long figuring out how to interweave the stories and not enough time coming up with brisk dialogue. From his campy early comedies like Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Red Scare on Sunset to his most commercial play, The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, Busch's best plays boast zippy one-liners and often hilarious physical comedy. The Third Story, on the other hand, has painfully few witty punchlines buried in the longwinded dialogue.

Director Carl Andress isn't able to meld the stories into a coherent whole, and he and Busch should have tightened the play. At one point Peg the screenwriter talks about how important it is to make cuts in a script, and that very scene is in dire need of trimming.

As always it's a treat to see Busch ham it up as a flinty dame right out of a B movie, but his costars don't do as much with their characters. David Gallo's set and Gregory Gale's costumes accentuate the 40s vibe. It's a bad sign, though, when the outfits are more amusing than most of the dialogue.


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