The Third Side
By Tom Vaughan
Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company
May 14, 2009
Photo: Anthony Rathbun
What if Darwin was wrong? Not as in evolution being a shaky theory, but just a part of the puzzle?
That's precisely the premise of Tom Vaughan's new play, The Third Side, produced by Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company in Houston, TX.
When biology professor Henry Darden goes public with his theory that Darwin got one part of his thesis wrong he draws the attention of the Intelligent Design people, the wrath of his college-age daughter Jessie, and the suspicion of his peers at Wheeler College. Darden is already in a bit of a life crisis with a marriage and kid-minded live-in girlfriend Christine, a high school son wanting to blow off the last few days of school, a defiant daughter, and a quickly crumbling career.
Vaughan, who also directed the play, honed his skills in Los Angeles, and has a particularly sharp ear for dialogue, making the cast of characters an entertaining lot. People in academia are rarely this witty, especially those with tenure on the line. Darden's thesis is flatly rejected without the benefit of closer examination—so it goes in the rigid and highly reactive world of higher education. Vaughan piques our interest in how the science problem is going to play out, then leaves us hanging, shifting the focus from matters of science to matters of the heart. It would have been fun to watch Darden mix with the Intelligent Design pseudo science crowd. Regardless of whether or not we get to the bottom of the issues, Vaughan keeps us wanting to know more about this collection of characters. A little more science would have been fun though.
Mark Carrier heads up the cast as Darden, the fearless renegade who is more than happy to take grant money from the Intelligent Design folks. Carrier imbues his performance with a professorial laid back style and a quiet charisma. We cheer from him as we watch his career fall into ruins. Chase Mozingo is completely believable as the senioritis-suffering high school kid. The rest of the cast, still a bit tentative and awkward, has yet to inhabit their roles. Kelly Robertson's sleek off-white, curved set conjures the coolness of academia but is at odds with the breezy nature of Vaughan's tone.