BWW Reviews: FIFTH OF JULY Powerfully Begins Theatre22's Life
Newborn theatre company Theatre22 has stumbled into the light of the world with its inaugural production of Lanford Wilson's post Vietnam War drama, "Fifth of July". And while the production and play itself took awhile to find its rhythm, the level of professionalism of the production launches this fledgling theater company off to an outstanding start.
Set at a farm in Missouri in 1977 we meet Vietnam War vet Ken (Chris Shea) who is still dealing with the loss of his legs in the war and is trying to reassemble his life as a teacher alongside his boyfriend, Jed (Alex Garnett). Visiting The Farm are Ken's sister June (Megan Ahiers) and her free spirited daughter Shirley (Rachel Sedwick), Ken's Aunt Sally (Mary Machola), Ken and June's long time friends John and Gwen Landis (Tom Stewart and Meg McLynn) and Gwen's guitarist Wes (Zach Sanders). During this weekend signifying the final spreading of Sally's late husband's ashes, the people seemingly with the most solid plans for their lives reveal themselves to still be searching for meaning as Ken plans on abandoning his home and teaching career and selling the house to John and Gwen so John can build Gwen a recording studio on the land and launch her singing career.
As I said, the play itself, while brimming with rich, complex characters takes awhile to get going as it attempts to introduce each one and the production drags a bit and is a bit muddled at the start as director Julie Beckman tries to keep us engaged in these people and their eccentricities. But once the play finds that footing, it becomes a riveting look into the pain and betrayal of friendship in the wake of war.
Shea and Garnett are wonderful in their roles and compliment each other's characters well. Both very subtle and thoughtful in their approaches, Shea manages a kind of quiet, intelligent damage to his character with Garnett there to pick up the pieces as one of the few truly grounded characters in the piece. Stewart and McLynn serve well as the polar opposites to the main couple with their free, take no prisoners attitude and boisterous manner. Ahiers and Sedwick manage a kind of desperation to their roles, one desperate to keep her life together and the other desperate to leave it behind, but I would have liked to have seen some more layers to their performances. Machola is lovely as the slightly scattered Aunt Sally with her "been there, done that" attitude and Sanders, while not having much to say, communicated hilarious volumes as the spaced out Wes.
With an absolutely gorgeous set from Michael Mowery (especially for this space) the piece is a solid look at people searching for some meaning and resolution and a wonderful way to start off the company's life. An auspicious beginning to be sure and one that intrigues me as to what they will come up with next.
"Fifth of July" from Theatre22 performs at West of Lenin through October 26th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.theatre22.org.
Photo credit: Truman Buffet