In a beautiful 80 year old theatre in the heart of Allentown, Pennsylvania, the Civic Theatre of Allentown celebrated the opening night performance of Lanford Wilson’s FIFTH OF JULY before a house of 175 patrons. The show runs until March 5th. The cast of eight actors, John Armstrong, Will Morris, Deena Lin, Jerry Curran, Traci Ceschin, Nicole Labadie-Bartz, Elizabeth McDonald, and Steven “Dallas” Young, were directed by William Sanders while Kimberly Lavelle served as Stage Manager. Assisting in the production were Joshua Jacunski, Julie Sullivan, David Kutos, Rob Bergenstock, Allie Counts, Kim Danish, Patricia Welle and Michael Bartz.
I give credit to the theatre staff and crew for designing and constructing a beautiful, multi-level and multi layered set of a house in Lebanon, Missouri, during the late 1970’s. The two act play had two locations; the first act was inside the house, the second, being on the patio of the same house. The intermission transition between inside and out was very impressive. It had to be in order to fill up the large stage that the Civic Theatre is privileged enough to perform in.
Director Sanders stated that Wilson’s plays have “always been on my short list” to produce. “When I was looking for plays for this season, I knew the time had come,” says Sanders. “I re-read it and knew it was time to bring to Civic the work of a locally under-produced playwright that helped not only reflect decades of American life, but influence, shape and define thousands of actors.”
Maybe there is a reason why Wilson’s plays are not widely produced by local theatres. Shows need to appeal to audiences who pay to be entertained. Or the play has to have some social issue burning at its core to excite the crowd. I am not sure FIFTH OF JULY did either. I wish he would have chosen one of the other Wilson’s plays. Honestly, this play was two hours of no plot, two hours of “what is the reason?” I am not a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright like Wilson is. But he didn’t win the Prize for this play either. As an audience member, I am entitled to like or dislike the play and or the production and or the performances. The play was so individually character driven; it seemed at times I was watching individual short monologues instead of a well constructed plot. I cannot really tell you what the play was about.
I thought, maybe I don’t get it, so I will ask other patrons in the audience during intermission. A group of four twenty-something’s with whom I spoke unfortunately confirmed my initial belief that the play was not easy to follow; we didn’t know where it was going, the “characters” Wilson creates are such caricatures of people that we doubt the whole thing is real. Out of courtesy, the four spoke to me but asked not to be named. I think they were friends of people in the cast. I understand that. One gentleman spoke of how the show was not a whole, but parts strung together to form a union. The play worked “outside inward”. I understood what he meant. All of them seemed to show an uneasiness when I kept pressing for more information. As a result, I stopped asking them for their “review”. I guess I just needed to know I wasn’t the only one not “getting it”.
Sanders “gets it”. He was “spellbound by this play” when he first saw it back in 1981. He claims the play is a “roller coaster of laughs and tears”. Needless to say, many of us didn’t feel the same way; more like a merry-go-round of sorts.
FIFTH OF JULY
by Lanford Wilson
Directed by William Sanders
February 24 – March 5, 2011
Civic Theatre of Allentown
527 North 19th Street
Allentown, PA 18104
Box Office: 610-432-8943