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Thirds

Jacob Appel's play about three squabbling siblings is too predictable and belabored.

By New York City
Leigh Williams, Kelly Strandemo and
Laura Faith in Thirds
(© Katherine Miles Jones)
Leigh Williams, Kelly Strandemo and
Laura Faith in Thirds
(© Katherine Miles Jones)
Jacob M. Appel's 2007 play Thirds, now at Theatre Row's Lion Theatre, is an overly belabored comedy about a trio of squabbling co-inheritors that takes its time hitting pay dirt. In fact, the entire first act goes begging for a laugh track, and director Zac Hoogendyk compounds the script's pandering for laughs by insisting that every "kooky" bit get hammered home.

Nor does it help that in the current version (adapted by Kevin Brewer), Appel's three sisters are not so much characters as types. Delilah, the eldest (an admirably grounded performance by Leigh Williams), is the hyper-responsible sibling. When she insists that mothering her own three school-age girls constitutes "a job," you don't doubt that she makes it one.

At 29, Maya (delightful Kelly Strandemo) is still the baby of the bunch. Resolutely unemployed, she's the designated screw-up, a self-styled artist with little to show for her efforts and ambitions so diffuse -- she's a Web-dabbling autodidact -- that the label of dilettante would seem overly confining.

Completing the set is Olivia (Laura Faith), who is your standard-issue middle child: recessive by nature, happy to natter to herself while the verbal fireworks fly. This meek librarian would probably rather eat paste than attempt to broker a détente.

However, the young women's mother, whose major accomplishment in life was sustaining pen-pal correspondences with 10 sitting presidents (plus -- most improbably -- General William Westmoreland), proved capricious to the end. She named Olivia executrix, while mandating that all three equally inherit her estate -- including an "upscale" Westchester house (oddly designed by Josh Zangen).

At the outset of the play, Maya has begun bricking off her third; Delilah is campaigning to move in her brood (thereby ousting Maya); and Olivia, who'd rather just sell, is clutching her belly in a pre-ulcerous panic. From there, the sisters' tussle proceeds in rather predictable (if doggedly colorful) fashion.

Luckily, act two brings the precipitous arrival of a would-be buyer, the truly kooky Phyllis Hofmeyer Hofmeyuer (Jenna Panther), a nutcase who grew up across the street from the girls and survived a cursed, lonely childhood by imagining herself a member of the happy clan. While she's something of a "type," dramatically speaking, Phyliss is a true original, and Panther gives this whack-job role her all.

Indeed, the chance to witness Phyllis's impassioned rendering of Walt Whitman"s "A Noiseless Patient Spider" alone more than compensates for the much more normal, less remarkable proceedings that pave the way for her increasingly loopy revelations.


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