5th of July

By Lanford Wilson5thof july by landfors wilson

Directed by Michael Weber

Produced by Oak Park Festival Theatre

At Austin Gardens, Oak Park, IL

5th of July is a funny and poignant kitchen sink family drama

Lanford Wilson’s 1978 sequel to Talley’s Folly (produced by Oak Park Festival theatre in 2007), 5th of July pushes the clock up to 1977 where the Talley family once more finds themselves in turmoil.  Centered on Ken Talley (Stef Tovar), a gay paraplegic Viet Nam War casualty just after the 4th of July at the Talley family home in Lebanon, Missouri, the 5th of July is a compassionate portrait of a generation trying to decide whether to abandon the past, or find the courage (and rationale) to cope with it and begin their lives anew.

5th of july by lanford wilson

5th of July is laced with sharp humor as we get to know this family that is filled with eccentrically colorful characters each with a story to tell. Filled with 60’s activists now struggling to fit into to society, the Talley’s and the Landis’ converse back in rural Missouri to support Sally Talley as she decides to spread her late husband’s ashes around the boat house. There are several dynamics emerging: Ken’s struggle whether or not to go back to teaching high school after his war injury. Ken and his lover Jed (Danny Bernardo) making a home at the Talley house. John Landis (Brandon Dahlquist) and his wife Gwen (Rebekah Ward-Hays) frantic efforts to move on from political activism to corporate ownership to making Gwen a country music singer.  Former hippie June Talley (Lydia Berger) struggles to raise her child, Shirley (Glynis Gilio)–a precious 13 year old.

5th of July moves along breezily with biting humor in the early moments yet it builds dramatic tension as each person come to grips with facing the present and putting the past to rest. Wilson populates his plays with full rounded characters with whom we care about. He makes spending time with the Talley’s fun. There are lessons here for all who find themselves stuck in the past while fighting with to make a worthwhile future.

Several performances standout from this strong cast–Stef Tovar, Rebekah Ward-Hays and Kate Kisner anchor the show. Brandon Dahlquist and Glynis Gilio had fine moments. This ensemble delivered Wilson’s story with an effective casual style that built into a hopeful resolution. Families somehow find a way to move on. I enjoyed this show which was an outdoor summer treat. Despite a cool night, not one of the audience members left before the show ended–which is no small accomplishment. Grab your picnic basket and get out to Austin Gardens and enjoy Wilson’s fine play.

Recommended

Tom Williams

At Austin Garden, Forest & Lake Street, Oak park, IL, Call 708-445-4440, www.oakpartkfestival.com, tickets $22 – $27, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through July 11, 2009