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Theatre Journal 53.3 (2001) 501-503

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Performance Review

Three Seconds In The Key

Three Seconds In The Key. By Deb Margolin. Performance Space 122, New York. 24 February 2001.

IMAGE LINK= Deb Margolin is a middle-aged Jewish woman with Hodgkin's disease who watches Knicks games with her son. Her play Three Seconds in the Key is about a middle-aged Jewish woman with Hodgkin's disease who watches Knicks games with her son. Not only is the subject matter autobiographical, but Margolin also plays the woman and her son plays her son--so that one might suppose Three Seconds in the Key is entirely based on facts. But where would that leave one when a New York Knick--a sort of luminescent visionary graced with prophecy and wisdom--appears in this woman's living room? And how might one account for the visual disparity between fiction and fact: Deb Margolin looks wondrously healthy as she plays herself, a victim of cancer and chemotherapy, an optical embodiment of her dialectical conundrum.

Margolin begins the opening monologue ("You know, I can't smoke pot, I really can't . . .") with her trademark charm: eyes growing wide, voice going high, and smiling in self-abnegation. The story ends at a grocery store, its teller laughing with abandon at the sight of her purse amidst a sea of melons. And in a sense, the tale explains the entire play as a glorious drug-induced fantasy. But in another sense, it negates that explanation: after all, she has only smoked pot twice since her diagnosis because she "really can't." The sense that such opposites impossibly co-exist prevails throughout the play.

We see these opposites when the Player (Edwin Lee Gibson) dwarfs the Mother (Margolin) with his statuesque presence. He's tall; she's short. He's black; she's white. He's healthy; she's fighting for her life. She's the intellectual "weirdo who likes words," but he advises her with practicality. The Mother and the Player engage in a series of topical dialogues, ranging from race and religion to motherhood and sex, which resemble both duets and duels. These conversations are often sparked by hatred but more often display love. Toward the end of the play they dance together--a surprising and beautiful ballet (choreographed by Stormy Brandenberger)--leaving the audience with a sense of grace.

Margolin, a founding member of Split Britches, is known for her solo performances. However, her most recent plays are ensemble pieces that retain all her best solo qualities--her poetry, her lyrical humor, her ability to find beauty in the most unlikely places--while expanding dimensionally with other voices. In Three Seconds, the presence of multiple characters works thematically and also theatrically as the acting is always first-rate. Gibson complements his character's philosophical lines with a provocative performance, emanating peace, somehow, even when he's angry. Bennett Kirschner seems so unaffected, so unconscious of his artful self-presentation, that one might almost expect this eight-year old to fall asleep under his Knicks comforter. Another fine performance is that of Lee Gundersheimer (also the director), who plays one of the Knicks (and looks the part) and also a suburban housewife (and looks the part!). [End Page 501] [Begin Page 503]

The title refers to the length of time that a player can stand under the basket while holding the ball. The Player explains the metaphor: "You only got three seconds if you got the ball, Mother . . . It's three seconds with the ball, and forever and a day without it." A game clock hanging over the stage visually represents the Mother's obsession with time, which emanates from her fear of death. The clock begins at ninety-nine and counts down throughout the show, but periodically it re-sets itself so that the playing time begins to seem infinite. The audience, who expects the performance to last ninety-nine minutes is confused and conflicted by the re-sets--both wanting the play to go on longer and wondering if it will ever end (it lasts nearly two...


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