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STAGE REVIEW : Orange Coast College Cast Pursues Sense of Coherence in ‘Fifth of July’

Lanford Wilson’s “Fifth of July” is not always the most graceful of plays, structurally or otherwise--this garden of wilted flower children on a soul search can get pretty tangled.

We are expected to tune in to all the post-'60s angst embodied in the gathering of old friends during an Independence Day weekend, but Wilson makes it difficult. All the interlocking relationships, overlapping dialogue and comic instability can result in a confusing visit, especially early on. The fact that it all comes together more nimbly in Act II doesn’t help much if you get lost in the first hour.

Obviously, the 1978 play (Wilson’s sequel to “Talley’s Folly”) requires extremely sure direction to prevent it all from getting knotted. At Orange Coast College, director Alex Golson comes away with a reasonably smooth (and funny) production that allows the individual stories to develop coherently enough. This is a far from perfect show (Golson too often lets the ebb-and-flow pacing get away from him), but then, Wilson’s imperfect play invites problems.

Despite the cast’s greenness, which causes some lapses in attention to “Fifth of July’s” subtleties, the acting is mostly decent. Many of the key performers have to convey a vaguely lost dimension that comes from being out of step with their ‘60s past, the most vital time of their lives. Those days, even when tragic, seem more real than the present to some of these folks.

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The primary focus is on Ken (Pete Crosby), a disabled vet who no longer wants to be a teacher, and his gay lover, Jed (Brandon Faloona). Crosby and Faloona underplay their emotions, so that without bludgeoning the audience in the process, they ensure that we understand the potent feelings Ken and Jed share. Crosby is shallow early on--there should be hints of Ken’s disturbed sensitivity even in the first scenes--but he achieves a fuller portrayal later.

Perhaps the most interesting relationship exists between the wealthy but drug-fried Gwen (Ellen Buckley) and her glib, too-cool husband, John (Rich Jackson), a couple with hazy ambitions of making it in the music industry. Buckley, at times, tries too hard to communicate Gwen’s hyperventilated spaceyness; but when she is on, the portrayal is original and exciting to watch. Jackson holds his own, giving John the right amount of conceited aggressiveness.

Pamela Martin provides many of the most amusing moments as old Aunt Sally, a dizzy case who tries to communicate with UFOs and carries her husband’s ashes around in a box. As Ken’s sister, June, a former radical who now thinks politics are hooey, Alice Diane Ensor brings the right streak of cynicism to the whole affair.

‘FIFTH OF JULY’

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An Orange Coast College production of Lanford Wilson’s play. Directed by Alex Golson. Co-director Lonnie Alcaraz. With Pete Crosby, Ellen Buckley, Alice Diane Ensor, Cort Huckabone, Brandon Faloona, Rich Jackson, Pamela Martin and Glendele Way. Set by Ponzer Berkman and Brandon Faloona. Lighting by Paul Beasley. Plays Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; final performance Sunday at 4 p.m. at the campus’s Drama Studio, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa. Tickets: $4.50 and $6. (714) 432-5527.


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