‘Fifth of July’ raises curtain on theater season

Posted on 10 October 2017 by Ian Schrauth

Lanford Wilson play about importance of family, facing personal problems

 

By: Melissa Wilkinson
Editor-in-Chief

 

Meramec’s theater season kicked off Oct. 4-8 with Fifth of July, a play by Lanford Wilson set in Lebanon, Missouri. The play follows Vietnam veteran Kenneth Talley, his boyfriend and botanist Jed Jenkins, and several visitors to their rural farmhouse. Fifth of July was selected by director and Meramec teacher Keith Oliver, who said he’s been wanting to put on a Lanford Wilson play since his college years.

8“You have a group of young people who were sincerely hoping to change the world, and I can’t help but feel like it reflects a lot of what’s going on today,” said Oliver. “We have a lot of people who are wanting to take a stand but maybe don’t know where to begin. I think this play reflects back on something that’s been happening for many generations. We’re still trying to figure it out.”

Freshman Zach Sept, who played Jed Jenkins, said his character is the strong silent type. According to Sept, despite his character having the smallest number of lines in the play, Jenkins’s role is as prominent as the others.

“We are all lead roles essentially,” said Sept. “When you get down to a small enough cast you can only have leads.”

Tessa O’Bryan, also a freshman, plays long-suffering June Talley. The sister of Ken, June led peace rallies against the Vietnam war in her college days and during the play harbors a secret regarding the identity of her daughter’s father.

“The play for [June] is about coming to terms with her current reality and confronting the feelings she’s had for the past 15 years,” said O’Bryan.

June’s daughter Shirley, described by her actress as “flamboyant,” is played by Sienna Desuza, a 14 year old from Hixson Middle School. Desuza found out about auditions for Fifth of July through an online listing.

“The whole entire cast has been really great in helping me, because this is actually my first production ever,” said Desuza. “It’s helped me get a boost of confidence.”

Desuza said she didn’t have any luck auditioning for plays at her own school but plans to continue acting after her experience at Meramec. Her ultimate goal is to perform in musicals.

Director Keith Oliver started out as a professional actor, later getting his MFA in directing from University of Massachusetts Amherst. Oliver said he didn’t originally intend to become a teacher but knew after doing it in his MFA program that teaching had to be a part of his future career.

“It’s interesting. In Greek, the word for director, didaskalos, means teacher,” said Oliver. “A director is really a super teacher because they have to help all the actors and teach what the play is all about.”

Regarding the overall message of the play, Oliver said the ultimate message is the importance of family.

“This is a real mix of family members and in the end it’s the love and concern for each other that keeps them together,” said Oliver. “With all the hardship they’ve gone through and worries about the world, whether it’s relationships with one another, a war, a movement that didn’t take place…but they still have each other.”

According to Desuza, the play’s ultimate message is about facing one’s problems.

“It’s about not running away from yourself and your responsibilities just because you’re scared,” said Desuza.

O’Bryan offered her own unique interpretation.

“It’s about taking all of the pain in all you’re experiencing and overcoming it,” said O’Bryan.

Meramec theater’s next production is Middletown by Will Eno, showing Nov. 15-19.

 

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