The title of the play refers to the day after the major national holiday that celebrates not just the founding of America, but its founding spirit. It is the ordinary day following an emotional "high"-in short, a normal, business-as-usual day. It is life in the light of the ordinary and not in the flash of a once-a-year fireworks display. A time to face up to responsibility, commitment, involvement, continuity, and survival.
Ken, June, John, and Gwen were four people fiercely committed to the antiwar movement. Now, they are faced with the reality that life is a cause that demands its own fierce commitment. Each must finally take responsibility for their individual choices and actions, face lost dreams and regrets, and choose to bury the past and recommit to the future.
This theme is told beautifully through Ken's unseen student Johnny Young. This student (who happens to be Ken's half-cousin) has an IQ of 200; however, his speech is nearly unintelligible. In order to help alleviate Johnny's fear of being cut off or anticipated, Ken has encouraged him to tell a story into a tape recorder. After learning how to understand the boy, Ken reads aloud his transcription of the last portion of the boy's story.
After they had explored all the suns in the universe, and all the planets of all the suns, they realized that there was no other life in the universe, and that they were all alone. And they were very happy, because then they knew it was up to them to become all the things they had imagined they would find.
In these two beautiful sentences, we see acceptance of the future, happiness in that acceptance, and commitment to fulfilling one's potential. This is the essence of Fifth of July.
In keeping with our "Countdown to the Year 2000" theme, each play presented by the Stage Center over the past two years represents a particular decade. When asked to select a play from the 1970s, I was pleased to find that Fifth of July fell in that category. I was intrigued by the profound impact the Vietnam War has on every character in the play. Each character is dealing with the shock of the lost war abroad and a failed social revolution at home. But Lanford Wilson, who hides his comedy's plot in the Chekhovian manner, does the same with his political views. There isn't a single debate about Vietnam in the play; the references to the days of the antiwar movement are usually inferred. By truthfully capturing the intimate behavior, at once painful and comic and affectionate, of these dislocated characters, Lanford Wilson creates a more compelling portrait of Vietnam's complex legacy than any moralizing speeches ever could.
Ultimately, what emerges from Fifth of July is the portrait of a loving, flawed family whose core, in spite of everything, is surviving. This is beautifully expressed through the character of Shirley. She is our hope for this family. For as she says at the end of play, "The important thing is to find your vocation and work like hell at it. ... I am the last of the Talleys. And the whole family has just come to nothing at all so far. Fortunately, it's on my shoulders."
Please visit the following websites:
The Wall on the Web: http://www.vietvet.org/thewall/thewallm.html
The Moving Wall Vietnam Veterans Memorial: http://www.virtualwall.org
-Kevin Long, Director,
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