Robert Sean Leonard and Parker Posey will star in 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. The play replaced Talley's Folly for the January 2003 slot in the Signature Theatre Company's current slate of Wilson plays.
The change of plan was prompted by the pregnancy of Cynthia Nixon, who was to appear in Talley's Folly. Wilson veteran Nixon appeared as a child actress in the Broadway run of Fifth of July (and in the video staging for PBS), one of three plays in the Wilson trilogy about the Missouri-rooted Talley family. The play — by turns funny and rueful — premiered at Off Broadway's Circle Repertory Company in the 1977-78 season, directed by Marshall W. Mason.
Director Jo Bonney, already planning to dip into one Talley play, will put Folly aside and bask in July. Performances begin Jan. 16 and continue to March 9 at the Peter Norton Space, Signature's home. Official opening is Feb. 3.
Leonard, who will play Ken, won a Tony for his work in Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love. Recently, has was cast in the upcoming Broadway production of Long Day's Journey Into Night. Posey, cast as Gwen and a veteran of independent films, starred in the ill-fated Broadway comedy, Taller Than a Dwarf.
When the Off-Broadway staging Fifth of July was remounted at Broadway's New Apollo Theatre, Christopher Reeve, and later Richard Thomas, headlined as Kenneth Talley, Jr., a paraplegic Vietnam vet who reunites with old former '60s-radical pals who made varying choices in wartime. The Signature describes the Lebanon, Missouri-set play this way: "On a hot Independence Day in the late 70s, a widow puts her husband's ashes in the fridge for safekeeping, a handsome botanist rediscovers a long-lost variety of rose, and a young girl dreams of being Betty Grable and Marie Curie. Fifth of July chronicles the two-day reunion of a group of '60s radicals in their small hometown of Lebanon, MO. 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."
Fifth of July was first produced by the 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. When a re-cast staging moved to Broadway's New Apollo in 1980, Swoosie Kurtz was part of the 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 in his home state of Michigan. His model for the troupe, he told Playbill On-Line, is Circle Rep.
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.
Signature Theatre's Peter Norton Space is at 555 W. 42nd Street between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues. For information, call (212) 244-PLAY or visit www.signaturetheatre.org.
and Kenneth Jones