AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Lanford Wilson
Presented by Aurora Theatre Company
Directed by Tom Ross
Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison St., Berkeley, CA / (510) 843-4822

Reviewed by Judy Richter

In Lanford Wilson's "Fifth of July," college-age anti-war activists of the '60s are more grown up.

Now that it's 1977, much has changed. Ken Talley (Craig Marker) is living in the family home in Lebanon, Mo., with his supportive partner, Jed (Josh Schell), a botanist. Ken has lost both legs in Vietnam but is ambulatory thanks to prostheses. He's supposed to resume his career teaching English in the local high school, but he's frightened.

They're joined by Ken's single-mom sister, June (Jennifer Le Blanc); her 13-year-old bratty daughter, Shirley (Oceana Ortiz); and their 64-year-old aunt, Sally Friedman (Elizabeth Benedict). Sally has returned to the family homestead to scatter the ashes of her late husband, Matt.

The story of their courtship 33 years earlier is told in "Talley's Folly," also being presented by Aurora Theatre Company as part of its Talley Trilogy project.

Some unexpected guests are John and Gwen Landis (John Girot and Nanci Zoppi), who were Ken and June's fellow flower children at Cal. With them is Weston (Harold Pierce) a guitarist who's involved in developing Gwen's singing career.

Besides visiting his old friends and hometown, John has another motive. He wants to buy the Talley home and convert it into a recording studio for Gwen, who has fried her brain with drugs and still indulges.

Tensions rise over John's proposal as well as his desire to have Shirley, who's apparently his daughter, live with him and Gwen.

During the course of the play, which begins July 4 and continues the next morning, there are satisfying resolutions for the Talleys. Even young Shirley, an annoying drama queen, becomes more tolerable and mature.

Wilson has created some idiosyncratic characters well enacted by the Aurora cast under the direction of artistic director Tom Ross. Marker as Ken has the double challenge of not only developing his character but also walking like an amputee using crutches or a cane. Schell's Jed is a quiet, scholarly man who keeps a sharp eye out for Ken's welfare.

As the drug-addled Gwen, Zoppi provides much of the show's comedy as well as some words of wisdom for Shirley. Pierce's spacey Weston tells weird stories. The rest of the cast also is notable, especially Le Blanc as June, another character who's ready to assume a more mature role.

Even though the cast of eight is somewhat large for Aurora's intimate stage, Ross stages the action well on the set designed by Richard Olmsted with lighting by Kurt Landisman and sound by Chris Houston. The '70s costumes are by Heidi Leigh Hanson.

Despite the specific era, the play has a timelessness because it's focused on the characters and their evolution.

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