REVIEW – Fifth Of July – Pear Avenue Theatre

It’s only September but, the Pear Avenue Theatre has transformed their small theatre into the Fifth of July with the help of some talented actors, a lovely set and Lanford Wilson’s play. Like the 4th of July Holiday, there was a lot of excitement and build up. Fireworks and BBQ, right? But as the title suggests, the day after left me wanting something else. Or more. Or different.

Fireworks: The highlight perhaps for me was a very clever use of space. Perhaps the most professional and effective design and staging of a traditional seating arrangement I have seen in my 10 years of attending Pear shows. Do yourself a huge favor and at the end of the first act, go to the lobby and don’t go back to your seats until they ring the bell. Don’t watch the transformation process, just enjoy the magical end result. The attention to era specific set dressings and props is a trip and an enjoyable one.

BBQ: There was some talent to feast on for sure. A very pleasant part of this play was in fact the acting, which didn’t feel like acting at all. I was struck with their natural style. All of them.The characters possessed a realistic tone, pacing was appropriate and the ensemble did a great job of being, for lack of a better word, believable.  From volume to comfort on the stage and with each other, they were very real. As commendable as it is to regard those on stage as exactly who they are portraying, it all seemed a little too even keeled. That being said, I don’t think that was the fault of the actors or the director. I’m going to probably have to place the blame on the playwright for my not liking this play as much as I wanted to.

The topic and intent of writing this play seemed a lot more dramatic than any of the resulting dialogue. The impact of the war seemed totally inconsequential to me with regards to these characters. It wasn’t as deep as I thought the topic lent itself to being. It was conservative and limited in the risks it could have taken and in many places lacking actual substance. The resolution seemed all too tidy and convenient. For all the reality of the actors, the words fell flat for me. This felt like it should have been a thinking play and I didn’t feel I cared enough (or maybe was informed enough) to make me think either during or afterwards. And maybe that wasn’t the intent? Maybe, it was just a slice of life? Either way, it failed to impress on me a story I really wanted to watch.

To be entirely fair there is a particular circumstance that may have tainted my complete enjoyment of this production. I’d seen August: Osage County at City Lights just two nights prior and as far as selfishness and dysfunction, that family will win the prize every time. While the Talleys and company of Fifth of July were believable, their behavior wasn’t actually deplorable, shocking, upsetting, surprising, or even all that interesting. When (right or wrong) compared with the drama of Tracy Letts chaotic downward spiral of a familial union, and the words used to tell that story, I felt the talents of cast and crew of Fifth of July were a bit wasted on Lanford’s lackluster script.

Additionally, this is the first part in a trilogy, so perhaps this really is a beginning to action rather than a completed story? Hard to tell. Left me thinking more along the lines of “what’s the big deal” as opposed to the more extreme recognitions and reversals that I was expecting and hoping for given the topic and circumstances of the characters.

No real fireworks perhaps but, a story that is told well, just not one I particularly identified with results in an “it is what it is” 3 1/2 jewels  out of 5 in the tiara for this production. Fifth of July plays through October 9th at the Pear Avenue Theatre.

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