Schenectady Civic Players has made a bold choice to begin their 90th season with the iconic Lanford Wilson show Fifth of July. The show needs strength – both strong actors and a strong director. Wilson’s work is wordy, intelligent and wise, and when not handled adeptly, the appeal can be hard to understand. SCP does a fine job with this production, and manages to make an almost 40-year-old show seem fresh.
Kenneth Talley Jr. (Michael Glantzis) and his partner Jed (Andrew Vroman) are living in the Talley family home in rural Missouri, where Ken, recently returned from the Vietnam War as a paraplegic, is due to start teaching at his former high school. It’s the fourth of July weekend, and the house is full of visitors – Ken’s sister June (Sara Paupini) and her daughter Shirley (Sarah Durocher), June and Ken’s aunt Sally (Joanne Westervelt), and Ken and June’s childhood friend John (Robin MacDuffie), his wife Gwen (Cristine M. Loffredo) – who hopes to launch a career as a country singer – and her guitarist Weston (David Quinones). Sally is there to scatter her husband’s ashes, Ken is waffling over beginning work, June and Shirley are butting heads as only a mother and daughter can and Gwen decides she wants to purchase the house to use as a recording studio – and old grudges and tempers begin to flare.
The women in the production really steal this show. Loffredo, an SCP veteran, is perfectly cast as Gwen – loud, brash, clueless at times but strangely intuitive at others. Her timing, as always, is impeccable and scenes are always brighter when she’s involved. Paupini, as June, could have easily faded away into the background – the role allows for it – but doesn’t, and the show is richer for it. Her intensity and warmth shine through, even in scenes where she isn’t in the spotlight, and her relationships with the other characters are well-rounded and believable. Westervelt is everyone’s beloved, somewhat-dotty aunt in her role as Sally, and her scenes are filled with laughter and joy. Durocher, the youngest of the cast, brings a lightheartedness and sense of winsome longing to Shirley’s character – any woman watching can see themselves at that age in her, with her desire to take the world by storm. Quinones, who I was so happy to see listed among the cast members, is a delight as Weston. Each time I see him in a production his comic timing is a little more well-honed and his joy in being onstage is so contagious I can’t help but grin.
The set, designed by Joseph Fava (who also directed) is absolutely stunning – SCP has some of the best set work in the entire Capital Region, and this show doesn’t disappoint. Marcia Thomas’s costumes are bright, colorful and perfect for the time period.
I always appreciate intelligent dramas, and Wilson’s work is some of the best. This is a fine showcase of that work, with a little bit of something – drama, comedy, beautiful design, talented actors – for everyone.
“Fifth of July”, Schenectady Civic Players, 12 South Church Street, Schenectady; through October 22; $20; Run time: 2 hours, 35 minutes with a 15-minute intermission; (518) 382-2081; https://civicplayers.org/