By Lanford Wilson
Directed by Edward Morgan
Produced by Infamous Commonwealth Theatre
At Raven Theatre’s West stage
Slow pacing hurts Wilson’s Fifth of July
As part of Lanford Wilson’s Talley Trilogy, Fifth of July is the 1977 gathering of the Talley clan in their Lebanon, Missouri home. The clan is once more in turmoil. The play centers on Ken Talley (Stephen Dunn), a gay paraplegic Vietnam survivor who has inherited the decaying summer home. Jed (Billy Fenderson), Ken’s live-in lover is busy with the plants and flowers as the clan gathers to celebrate the 4th of July.
The drama is laced with biting digs 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 (Joanne Riopelle) 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 making a home at the Talley house. John Landis (Josh Atkins) and his wife Gwen (Erin Myers) frantic efforts to move on from political activism to corporate ownership to making Gwen a country music singer. Former hippie June Talley (Whitney Hayes) struggles to raise her child, Shirley (Glynis Gilio)–an obnizious 13 year old.
The play suffers from a slow pace that deludes the build up of dramatic tension. It takes too long to get us involved and the references to the hippie days of the 60’s may be lost on some but this intelligent work 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. Should Ken resume teaching high school? Should he sell the summer home to John and Gewn? Should Shirley spend more time with John?
Some of Wilson’s humor lands but the show feels forced and uneven. The trauma of being stuck in the past used both to avoid change and to avoid responsibility is hinted at but not fully realized in this production. After a few false starts, the Fifth of July finally builds enough dramatic tension to makes its points. Stephan Dunn, Josh Atkins and Joanne Rioplle were particularly excellent. If you stay engaged, the Fifth of July will deliver a worthy family saga.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: June 18, 2011
At Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL, call 312-458-9780, tickets $20, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8:30 pm, Sundays at 3:30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 10 minutes with intermission, through July 10, 2011