Reviewed by Stephen Radosh
The Desert Rose Playhouse dedicates itself to presenting theatre which is of interest, or pertaining to, the LGBTQ community. They continue their mission with FIFTH OF JULY by Lanford Wilson and directed by Jim Strait, the theatre’s Artistic Director..
FIFTH OF JULY, although written first, is chronologically the final play in his trilogy of plays about the Talley family. Much like THE BIG CHILL, it focuses on a group of friends who gather together years after their college days. This once idealistic group of Berkley alumni has gathered on the 4th of July at the Missouri country house of Ken Talley (Brent Anderson), Ken had made the decision to fight in the Vietnam War; a decision which cost him both of his legs. The trauma of what happened has made him cynical as he now tries to figure out his purpose in life. Ken lives with his lover, Jed (Jason Jull), a botanist, who is happily turning the grounds into what someday will grow into
It is a credit to the author and a testament to his skill at writing dialogue, that these wildly divergent story lines actually blend together in a totally believable and natural fashion as they merge towards an uplifting and warm conclusion. It is also important to note that this play features one of the first, if not THE first, gay characters who are totally accepted for who they are. They are like any other couple and their relationship has its ups and downs like every couple in existence. Their being gay is not an issue in this play. That’s just who they are; No more, no less.
There are a couple of standout performances which deserve attention.
As Gwen, the role that made Swoosie Kurtz famous, Melanie Blue scores some of the biggest laughs in the show. Never seemingly far away from a breakdown (or a bottle of pills) she grabs focus (in a good way) every time she is onstage.
Alden West’s Aunt Sally never allows the eccentric to overshadow the wise and practical person that age has made her. She makes Sally instantly likeable and totally believable and never allows her to stray into a caricature of a dotty older woman.
Surprisingly, the biggest laugh in the play comes from James Owens’ wacked out musician who most of the time is staring off into space but when he tells the folk tale of an Eskimo and frozen meat (I won’t spoil the punchline), he deservedly receives the evening’s largest laugh.
Kudos must also go out to Phil Murphy for his lighting design and to Robbie Wayne for his clever design which enables the indoor set of the Talley home in Act I to be quickly transformed to become the outdoor patio setting of Act II. Both giving a feel of a somewhat large house that has been the family home for probably several generations of Talleys.
FIFITH OF JULY runs through Feb. 4, 2018. For tickets and more information go to DesertRosePlayhouse.org