Fifth of July | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Fifth of July, Griffin Theatre Company. Few plays reveal decency in action the way this Lanford Wilson drama does. Lovingly crafted, it's a group portrait of former 60s crusaders coping with the materialistic shift of the late 1970s, as three generations of the Talley family assemble for a Fourth of July reunion. Now 64, Sally (whose unlikely wartime romance with Matt Friedman drives the plot of Wilson's Talley's Folly) has returned to the family farm in Lebanon, Missouri, to dispose of Matt's ashes. The fate of the farm is in contention. Sally's bitter nephew Ken, wounded in Vietnam, is thinking of selling it--abandoning the gardens pioneered by his lover Jed and turning his back on his natural vocation as a high school teacher. Will he sell out to heiress Gwen and her opportunistic husband, John, whose dream is fame, not love? A lot hinges on the events of this symbolic fifth of July.

No time capsule was ever more craftily assembled; it's too true to date. Wilson scatters rich moments of discovery throughout--and the well-cast Griffin octet, directed by Richard Barletta and Jonathan Berry, make every one fresher than morning. David Gray conveys Ken's well-earned fears--and wish to thwart them--without tumbling into self-pity. Patricia Donegan is homespun authenticity as Sally, a sharp contrast to the near villainous John, whose contempt for all things natural Eric Slater seems to relish. As always, the dream of the 60s comes down to changing one life or commune at a time.

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