Jus’ got home from Illinois. Got to Sit Down and Take a Rest on the Porch
The inaugural production of Theater 22, THE 5TH OF JULY by Lanford Wilson, opened at West of Lenin October 4th. Taking place in 1977, that is to say, after the end of the Vietnam War, but before the Reagan years brought prosperity to the baby-boomers, 5TH OF JULY deals with the baby-boomer’s adjustment to adult life, symbolically marking the definitive end of the 60’s. The focus of the adjustment was letting go of the effects of Vietnam, both for the wounded soldiers and those who protested the war.
For that generation, that epoch was a time when they had to figure out what to do with themselves professionally, how to handle their personal lives as adults, rather than as hormone-rich adolescents, who had come of age during an era with the most sexual freedom that had existed or probably ever will exist, as it was post birth-control, but with curable STD’s, being pre-Aids.
Lanford Wilson’s play expresses these themes poignantly through five of the eight characters in the play, on the porch of a once affluent farm-house, in Lebanon, Missouri. There is a core group of 4 characters, Kenny Talley, a disabled Viet-Nam Vet, (played by Chris Shea) his sister June, whose great success in life was as a radical, (played by Megan Ahiers), a child-hood friend and his wife. All of them had lived in a Berkley commune, while partaking of the various amusements of that era. ( tripping & stripping and protests)
In addition, there is Aunt Sally, awesomely played by veteran actor, Mary Machala. A bit of a rebel in her own time, she is prevaricating about finally uprooting from Missouri and moving to a retirement home in California, while ostensibly procrastinating about scattering her husband’s ashes. Although Mary Machala did not actually havethe best lines, she certainly delivered the best lines, because she followed the fundamental rule about humor. Play the seriousness of the situation and the laughs will follow, rather than telegraph the audience that it is supposed to be funny.
Amidst all these complicated relationships is Shirley, the illegitimate daughter of June Talley, who is concerned about who her father is, in an era when “illegitimate” as a word and concept was still part of the culture. Also there is Jed, the younger and more grounded gay lover of the disabled vet, whose relationship hangs by a thread as the self-destructively-prone Kenny tries to figure whether to go back to teaching or to continue a bohemian life style at age 32, minus his two legs. To add some comic relief, and to remind us of “ where these people had come from” was, Wes, one of those inarticulate, philosophizing stoned out hippies. He was something out of every late sixties college student union, the type who said “far-out” in every sentence.
The play is a long conversational piece, which rambles as the various relationships and conflicts are revealed, with a lot of psychological/existentialist confrontations between the friends, which were socially acceptable before Oprah and John Bradshaw informed us otherwise. When there was a moment of high dramatic intensity or when Aunt Sally delivered her droll throw-away humor, the play became alive; however, in general the production suffered because the acting was a bit slow and unenergetic for the most part and my attention wandered at times.
One of the strengths of the play was that the set, an authentic Midwestern porch was gorgeous, as well as the other period details, from the “land-line” phone in the kitchen, to the costumes and men’s hair-styles and OMG side-burns.
It is a tribute to Paul Lippert, the musical composer, that when I heard the music, I was taken away in a wave of nostalgia, convinced that I recognized every song, but couldn’t remember the title, when in fact it had been composed for this production, but was in the authentic style of late 70’s music.
This play certainly will appeal to the baby-boomer generation or indeed to the current crop of college graduates who are stuck by lack of opportunity rather than disillusioned idealism, from getting on with their lives.
5th of JULY by Lanford Wilson. Theatre 22, West of Lenin, 203 N. 36th St. Fremont, Seattle 98103 Buses # 28 and 36 Tickets www.brownpapertickets. Thu Oct. 26th