BWW Review: FIFTH OF JULY at Susquehanna Stage Company
The title of Lanford Wilson's 1978 play, Fifth of July, hints at attempts to re-establish normalcy and routine after an explosive event. However, instead of a dazzling fireworks display, the explosive event in this story is the messy aftermath of the Vietnam War.
Kenneth Talley (Keifer Kemmerly) is a paraplegic Vietnam veteran living in his family home with his boyfriend, Jed (Rogan Motter). Kenneth currently works as a English teacher at his former high school, but has become disillusioned and disinterested in teaching. Joining Kenneth is his sister, June (Jessica Tyson) and her quirky young daughter, Shirley (Ashley Gage). We also meet his doddering, elderly aunt, Sally (Linda Boozer).
Along for the ride are family friends, John Landis (Kevin Ditzler) and wife, Gwen (Megan Riggs). Gwen is hoping to hit it big as the next Patsy Cline. Also in tow is a hippie songwriter named Weston (Ted Best). He serves as some of the sharpest comic relief in the production.
The majority of the 90 minute first act revolves around preparations to scatter the ashes of Sally's dead husband, Matt. Characters talk. Characters talk some more. Characters get dressed (and undressed). There just never seems to be enough pay off.
Megan Riggs's portrayal of Gwen is a huge stand-out. She plays her very bold and brassy. She brings dynamic energy to the stage and draws the audience in with her confidence and attitude. A testament to her enthusiasm, Riggs was the only actor who did not have (nor need) a body microphone.
Another interesting character is Ted Best's Weston. He plays Weston as an oddball stoner who thinks of himself as more of an intellectual than he really is. His bizarre recount of a folktale involving Eskimo farts and caribou meat was equal parts ridiculous and entertaining. I just wish that more of the story's humor landed as well as this extended bit.
The hour-long second act was more eventful. Siblings Kenneth and June discuss how the Vietnam War scarred them, both mentally and physically. Gwen gets news on her record deal, John attempts to buy the Talley homestead, and Shirley learns the identity of her father
Overall, the opening night performance could use a little help with its pacing. Some lines were drawn out, others were stepped on. There was some missed opportunities for additional humor. However, I am confident that a little more time and repetition, throughout the run, will effectively iron out these wrinkles.
Fifth of July is an intelligent piece of community theater. It runs through June 10 at Susquehanna Stage Company. Tickets and more information can be found on its website.