Fifth of July, Ensemble Classic of Love and Loss, Opens Off-Bway Feb. 3

News   Fifth of July, Ensemble Classic of Love and Loss, Opens Off-Bway Feb. 3 An ensemble play that inspired a generation of playwrights to embrace intelligent, lyric naturalism returns to the New York stage. Robert Sean Leonard and Parker Posey lead the cast.

Signature Theatre's new Off-Broadway revival of Fifth of July, Lanford Wilson's group character-study of a clutch of Midwestern friends and family members dealing with the fallout of the Vietnam era, opens Feb. 3 following previews from Jan. 16, starring Robert Sean Leonard.

Tony Award-winner Leonard (The Invention of Love) plays paraplegic Kenneth Talley Jr., and is joined by Parker Posey (Gwen), Jessalyn Gilsig (June), Michael Gladis (Jed), David Harbour (John), Sarah Lord (Shirley), Ebon Moss-Bachrach (Weston) and Pamela Payton-Wright (Sally).

The revival, staged by Jo Bonney, replaces Talley's Folly on the Signature season of works by Pulitzer Prize-winner Wilson.

Linked to Talley's Folly (the Broadway Pulitzer Prize-winner) and Talley and Son, Fifth of July is one of three plays in the Wilson trilogy about the Missouri-rooted Talley family.

Lovers John and Gwen have come to John's hometown of Lebanon, MO, to reunite with siblings June and Ken Talley. All four were anti-war, anti-establishment radicals in the 1960s. The reunion, after a decade of seeing that their fights came to nothing, is bittersweet. John's motive for his return is to address possible custody his and June's drama-queen daughter, the 13-year-old Shirley. Gwen, who went to Berkeley with the Missourians, comes to feel a sense of peace, and honor Aunt Sally (who was the focus of Talley's Folly), who is dealing with the loss of her husband, Matt (his ashes are in an empty box for chocolates). Ken has remained emotionally stuck (the metaphor is in his disability as well, an injury suffered in Vietnam), despite his happy partnership with a botanist, Jed. The Signature describes the play this way: "These friends and lovers confront the consequences of their past choices and try to reconcile the disappointments of lost dreams with renewed hope for the future."

The play — by turns funny and rueful — was first produced by Off-Broadway's Circle Repertory Company on April 27, 1978. The Circle Rep production ran for 168 performances with a cast that included William Hurt, Jonathan Hogan, Joyce Rheeling, Amy Wright, Danton Stone, Nancy Snyder, Jeff Daniels and Helen Stenborg. Marshall W. Mason directed. When the play was remounted in 1980 at Broadway's New Apollo Theatre, Christopher Reeve, and later Richard Thomas, headlined as Kenneth. A video version of the play with Thomas (and a young Cynthia Nixon as teen-aged Shirley was seen widely on PBS).

Swoosie Kurtz was part of the 1980 company and won a Best Supporting Actress Tony Award (Mason and Wilson were also among Tony nominees). Jeff Daniels won the Drama Desk Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Jed Jenkins, and would go on to Hollywood fame. In 1991, he founded a professional theatre, the Purple Rose Theatre Company, in his home state of Michigan. His model for the troupe, he told Playbill On Line, is Circle Rep. He commissioned two Wilson plays in the 1990s, both of which are being mounted in the current Signature season devoted to the work of Wilson.

Performances continue to March 9 at the Peter Norton Space, Signature's home at 555 W. 42nd Street between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues. Tickets are $55. For information, call (212) 244-PLAY or visit www.signaturetheatre.org.

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Leonard won a 2001 Tony Award for his portrayal of young A. E. Houseman in Stoppard The Invention of Love. He'll begin rehearsals for a Broadway revival of Long Day's Journey Into Night in early March (he's to play Edmund, opposite Brian Dennehy, Vanessa Redgrave and Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Fifth of July director Jo Bonney most recently directed the premiere of Eric Bogosian's Humpty Dumpty at The McCarter Theatre. Other recent work includes Jessica Goldberg's Good Thing at The New Group, Slanguage by Universes at New York Theatre Workshop, Jose Rivera's References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot and the premiere of Diana Son's Stop Kiss, both at the Joseph Papp Public Theater, and Look Back in Anger at Classic Stage Company.

Designers are Richard Hoover (set); Ann Hould-Ward (costumes); James Vermeulen (lights); John Gromada (original music and sound); J. Steven White (fight direction).

Posey appeared in Broadway's Taller Than a Dwarf and the Los Angeles premiere of Four Dogs and a Bone and is remembered for her comic turn in the film mockumentary, "Waiting for Guffman."

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Signature Theatre Company will conclude its Lanford Wilson season with the New York premiere of Rain Dance, April 15-June 8, directed by Guy Sanville, the artistic director of Michigan's Purple Rose, the Jeff Daniels-founded troupe which commissioned the play (as well as Books of Days).

Wilson is known for his lyric realism in such plays as THE HOT L BALTIMORE, The Rimers of Eldritch, Lemon Sky, Serenading Louie, Talley's Folly, Balm in Gilead, Angels Fall and Burn This.