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Linfield Theatre examines war with ‘Fifth of July,’ post-show discussion

Linfield College theatre students will explore the disillusionment of the Vietnam War through the eyes of the Talley family with the production of “Fifth of July,” written by the late Lanford Wilson.

The production will be performed Nov. 3-5 and 10-12 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 6 at 2 p.m. in the Marshall Theatre in Ford Hall at Linfield.

A post-show discussion featuring Bob Ferguson, a Vietnam veteran and 1965 Linfield alumnus, will follow the performance on Friday, Nov. 11, Veteran’s Day. Ferguson, along and other veterans, will discuss war experiences and their impacts with community members.

“Fifth of July” is the story of Kenneth Talley Jr., a homosexual paraplegic Vietnam veteran living with his boyfriend in the Talley family home in Lebanon, Mo. The two are visited by Ken’s longtime friends and also some family members. When Ken tries to sell the family homestead, a bidding war between friends and family ensues. “Fifth of July” is the last play in Lanford Wilson’s trilogy about the Talley family. The other two are “Talley and Son” and “Talley’s Folley.”

The play examines how a group of friends who were former college student activists against the Vietnam War copes with their misfortunes and struggles to piece together their lives since college. The play’s title has an underlying meaning. The date, July 5, signifies a beginning. In history, it is the beginning of the United States and to the characters, a beginning of a new phase in their lives.

Director Janet Gupton, associate professor of theatre arts, said “Fifth of July” has been described by theatre scholars as “Chekhovian” because the action unfolds indirectly, and ties in nicely with this semester’s previous production. In September, students performed two of Chekov’s comic shorts, “The Bear” and “The Proposal.” “Fifth of July” in particular has themes that college students can relate to now in wartime, she added.

“Our students will make the connection between the Vietnam War and the Iraq War,” said Gupton, a member of the Linfield faculty since 2000. “Trying to understand what it was and is like for veterans to come home is difficult. It will be powerful and thought provoking.”

The cast includes first-year students Nicholas Granato as John Landis, Jeremy Odden as Jed Jenkins, Kristin Miller as Shirley Talley, Rhianna Bennett as June Talley and Daniel Bradley as Weston Hurley. Veteran cast members include sophomores Jenny Layton as Sally Friedman and Gabrielle Leif as Gwen Landis, and junior Chris Forrer, as Kenneth Talley Jr. The cast is supported by scenic and lighting designer Ty Marshall; costume designer Alethia Moore-Del Monaco; technical director Rob Vaughn; and two Linfield seniors, sound designer Chloe Wandler and stage manager Kanon Havens.

Lanford Wilson was a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and one of the most distinguished writers of the 20th century. He is credited for drawing attention to Off-Off Broadway shows with common themes being dissolution of families, societies and marriages. Wilson’s plays are also known for their taboo nature, often surrounding unmentionable issues of society. Characters like the Talleys were inspired by controversies in his own life.

“Wilson really has a way with words and he understands people,” said Gupton, who calls Wilson’s characters fascinating and witty. “He can truly portray how real-life controversies can affect people.”

Tickets will go on sale Tuesday, Oct. 25. Tickets are $9 for full price; $7 for seniors (62+) and Linfield faculty and staff; and $5 for students; with a $2 discount on all tickets on opening night. Seating is reserved. Tickets are available at www.linfield.edu/culture, by phone or at the Marshall Theatre Box Office. Located just inside the lobby of Ford Hall, the box office is open Tuesday through Friday from 3 to 5 p.m., and until 7:30 p.m. on performance days. The box office will also be open Nov. 5 and 12 from 3 to 7:30 p.m. and from noon to 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 6. The box office is closed Mondays.

The Marshall Theatre is fully accessible. For more information, call 503-883-2292.