Driftwood Players

"5th of July" Nov. - Dec. 1989

By Lanford Wilson, Directed by John Carlberg

Chuck Jones: (Jed Jenkins) Bob Stalder: (Ken Talley) Tobi Anderson: (Sally Friedman)

John McCabe: (Wes Hurley) Tobi Anderson: (Sally Friedman) Hope Slater: (Shirley Talley) Kathi Kelly: (June Talley) Chuck Jones: (Jed Jenkins)

Chuck Jones, Bob Stalder

Jane Hansen: (Gwen Landis) Ron Richardson: (John Landis)

Bob Stalder, Tobi Anderson

Hope Slater

Pictures by
Alan Stamwitz

From The Daily World Thursday, November 23, 1989

Complex characters in '5th of July' weave tangled ties of family, friends

By Bill Lindstrom
Daily World city editor

    "Life is not a festival, nor a feast," wrote the historian S. George Santayana. "It is predicament."

    In playwright Lanford Wilson's "5th of July," the Driftwood Players' provocative, adults-only production resuming Friday and Saturday at the Driftwood Theater, life seems to be a festival, a feast and a predicament.

    Separating the fantasy from the real world is a dilemma, delicately handled by Driftwood director John Carlberg.

    Carlberg has appeared on the Driftwood stage in "Lion In Winter," and directed the presentation of "Biloxi Blues" last summer. His plays generally offer a strongly-stated message, and this one is no exception.

    His characters all live in a dream world, each with their own outlook on what is important in life.

    The two-act play takes place at the Talley farmhouse in Lebanon, Mo., Independence Day, 1977 and the day after.

    There are eight integral characters, all of whom are in the spotlight at one time or another, espousing their philosophy of what is important. Some characters are products of the transition into the unity of the 1960s peace movement and others are direct descendants of the more free-spirited "me" generation of the 1970s.

    They have all come to the Talley farm - though some with ulterior motives - seemingly to scatter Matt Friedman's ashes. He had died a year ago, but his wife, enigmatic Aunt Sally (played by Tobi Anderson), hadn't decided until now what to do with the ashes. She says she plans to scatter them on the river.

    Bob Stalder plays Ken Talley Jr., who had both legs shot off seven years earlier in the Vietnam War. He owns the house with his live-in lover Jed Jenkins, played by Chuck Jones.

    This is Stalder's first Driftwood performance, though he has directed and performed in the Montesano Community School's "Curse You, Jack Dalton," and Nomah Productions' "Time West."

    As a double amputee with wooden prostheses, Talley moves about the stage on crutches with extreme dexterity.

    Talley's sister June (Kathi Kelly) and her illegitimate daughter Shirley, played by Hope Slater in her first Driftwood production. They have come to pay tribute to their Uncle Matt.

    Family friends John and Gwen Landis, and their composer friend, young Weston Hurley, are also there.

    John, a deeply cynical childhood friend, is played by Ron Richardson, and Jane Hansen is his extremely racy wife Gwen, whose language is as blue as the old Pennsylvania laws. While her downright filthy mouth is a shock at first, it fits right in with her devil-may-care, free-spirited attitude, popping quaaludes to beer chasers.

    The effusive and rich Gwen, last seen as the prostitute Rowena in "Biloxi Blues" and Alais in "Lion in Winter," is an heir to Helena Copper, but has her sights on a country-western singing career. She complements her eccentric husband extremely well. "Whatever Gwen wants, she's the boss," John says.

    Ken's enigma is central to the play. He harbors resentment against Gwen and John - his former lover who dashed off to tour Europe and left him to join the war. Ken has been teaching English at the local school and is tutoring a youngster with a speech impediment.

    On the surface Ken's problem is the farm, but it's more a struggle of what is important - teaching and tutoring at the school or selling the farm and traveling with Jed.

    Wes, just out of his teens, has a vocabulary consisting solely of "heavy," "far-out," "dude" and "dig it."

    Truth to him lies entirely within a strange Eskimo love story about thawed caribou meat - and that concept is no more clear in the play than it is in this sentence. But then, nothing Wes has to add is very clear.

    Aunt Sally, pre-occupied to be sure with Matt's ashes, lives within her own world - one nobody understands. Though some think her bats, she is, in the end, perhaps the sanest of the bunch.

    She has long since removed the ashes from the attractive urn the mausoleum gave her and now carries them in an empty box of chocolates.

    "Now where did I put him," she mutters, repeatedly, still talking to Matt as if he were present. "Bring him down. He's in the fridge," she yells, suddenly remembering where she laid the box.

    June has long since lost control of Shirley, her adorable flower child. They are both there out of respect. June consistently runs down the randy Gwen's pre-occupation with the frivolous life.

    Shirley, 13, who believes she is 19, is a breath of fresh air. Thoroughly put off with Gwen's sexual antics, she somewhat naive youngster announces, " I never intend to have sex in my life."

    Later, as she tries to explain her reason for living, she says, "I am like a flower ... an anemone. I'm going to be the greatest artist in Missouri, a painter, a composer, a dancer. I am the last of the Talley's. This family has amounted to nothing yet. Fortunately, it's on my shoulders." 

    Elaborate stage design marks this production, particularly that of Act II when the stage is dramatically transformed from the interior of the farmhouse to the intricate front porch. Don't miss this action during intermission.

    Credit stage manager Judy Ekman and scenic designer Ernie Ingram for this touch.

    But what statement is Carlberg making in this production? Pick one. There are as many philosophies as there are characters. After all, it's a play of character development, and how outlooks of life are altered with each predicament. And it all revolves around Aunt Sally and where she will scatter poor Matt's ashes.

    After all, everything else is temporal.  

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