A post-Vietnam family comes to terms on the Aurora stage
We celebrate the Fourth of July with a bang, but what about the day after? Each family negotiates July 5th in its own way. On Aurora Theatre’s mainstage, you can see how the Talley family of Lebanon, Missouri, did it in 1977. You don’t care? You should, because the fraught, funny tale happens to be playwright Lanford Wilson’s Fifth of July,
Wilson is one of our finest artists, Fifth is one of his finest works, and Aurora honors it with an admirable production.
In it, you enter the life of a family whose history and issues are both personal–what to do with the family home?–and more generally illuminate the life of America, post-1960s and post-Vietnam. It’s about how our nation had to sober up when the marijuana haze of the flower-power era blew away.
One third of Lanford’s Talley Trilogy, Fifth of July takes place at the large, rambling Talley home in, well, nowhere. Not that Lebanon, Missouri, isn’t pleasant in its rural, backwater way, but don’t look for any movers and shakers in the neighborhood. Yet that might change. John and Gwen Landis, and Gwen’s guitarist Weston Hurley, have shown up with an agenda. Gwen is a country singer on the verge of fame, and she and her husband are looking to buy the Talley place for a recording studio. They’re old friends of Ken Talley and his sister June. The four of them hung out in the sixties. They planned to bum around Europe together, but John and Gwen split without telling the others, and Ken signed up for Vietnam, where he lost both legs. Now home with his hunky lover, Josh, he’s at loose ends. Should he take a teaching job at the local school? His sister has come home, too, bringing along her flamboyant teen-aged daughter, Shirley, whose father (shh, it’s a secret), turns out to be John.
Complicated? Yes, but lively and touching, too: Chekov in Missouri.
Aurora does a fine job of fitting the spacious drama into its small playspace, and filling it with vigorous life. All the tale’s denizens are coming to terms with something, Ken and June’s mom, Sally, not the least of them. She still has her dead husband’s ashes. How should she most fittingly dispose of them? And how should Ken, now the patriarch of the estate, most honorably dispose of it?
Tom Ross directs with tact, grace and understanding, aided by a fine support team: Richard Olmstead (set), Heidi Leigh Hanson (costumes), Kurt Landisman (lighting) and Chris Houston (sound).
The actors do wonderful ensemble work, portraying both members of a deeply connected family and divided souls struggling with conflicts of their own. The fine Craig Marker takes the central role of Ken Talley; Jennifer Le Blanc is his sister June; Oceana Ortiz is her daughter, Shirley; and Ellizabeth Benedict plays Shirley Talley. Josh Schell is Ken’s lover, Jed; John Girot and Nancy Zoppi are the Landises; and Harold Pierce plays Weston and plays guitar and harmonica, too.
A gem of an American play, burnished to a glow by Aurora, Fifth of July plays on Addison Street until May 17th, followed in June by Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit. For tickets/information call 843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org.