Theater review: 'Fifth of July' at the Lex Theatre
Playwright Lanford Wilson's death in March inevitably heightens the extant bittersweet undercurrents of "Fifth of July." Wilson's masterful 1978 comic drama receives an idiomatic Production Company revival, distinguished by its respect for the property's human nuances.
Although it's the first produced of Wilson's trilogy of plays set in Lebanon, Mo. -- "Talley's Folly" and "Talley and Son" are the others -- "Fifth of July" closes the narrative cycle.
It's Independence Day, 1977. Disabled Vietnam vet Kenneth Talley Jr. (Scott Victor Nelson) resists relocating to the homestead, despite nudges from his partner, Jed (Johnny Patrick Yoder). Ken's sister, ex-antiwar activist June (Jennifer Sorenson), bemoans precocious adolescent daughter Shirley (Margaret Dwyer), the love child raised by late uncle Matt Friedman -- and aunt Sally (Judy Nazemetz), whose quirky widowhood encases Wilson's loveliest grace notes.
Ken and June's peace movement cronies -- boyhood chum John Landis (Christopher Carver) and substance-laden Gwen (Jen Albert), his potty-mouthed heiress wife -- are ostensibly whistle-stopping in Lebanon, en route to Nashville with zonked-out musician Weston Hurley (Rob Herring). Multiple agendas emerge before this dysfunctional reunion reaches catharsis.
Director August Viverito makes sensitive choices around his serviceable set, moodily lighting an adept cast that rants and ruminates in costumer Shon LeBlanc's nifty '70s togs. Nelson and Yoder subtly radiate a deep-seated connection, just as the assured Sorenson actually seems like Nelson's sibling.
Carver brashly inhabits posturing John, while Albert deliciously underplays Gwen, the role immortalized by Swoosie Kurtz. Dwyer's chirpy attack initially distracts as Shirley, yet proves affecting by the climax. Nazemetz's vivid Sally keeps caricature at bay, and Herring is sweetly hilarious. Still topical, ebullient and elegiac, this intelligently engrossing take on "July" does justice to Wilson's enduring talent.
-- David C. Nichols
"Fifth of July," Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 25. $25. (800) 838-3006 or www.theprodco.com/. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.
Photo: Johnny Patrick Yoder, left, and Scott Victor Nelson. Credit: T.L. Kolman