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Schenectady Civic Players' 'Fifth of July' worth the dysfunction

Schenectady Civic Players' 'Fifth of July' worth the dysfunction

Director Joseph Fava, producer Donald Mealy have mounted top-notch production
Schenectady Civic Players' 'Fifth of July' worth the dysfunction
Robin MacDuffie (from left), Joanne Westervelt, Sara Paupini and Cristine M. Loffredo star in "Fifth of July."
Photographer: Jenn Moak

Book-ending the cast of eight characters in Lanford Wilson’s talky but thoroughly engaging “Fifth of July” are two who lie about their ages: Sally (Joanne Westervelt), who claims to be younger than she is — 64 — and her grand-niece, Shirley (Sarah Durocher), who desperately wants to be more than 13. 

Sally has come back to the family homestead in Lebanon, Missouri, to scatter the ashes of her late husband and to attend the funeral of a friend, so she certainly has gotten a good whiff of mortality. But she is smart, feisty and engaged because life remains interesting to her.

Shirley’s eager for what’s next, and with youthful gusto she imagines herself different kinds of flowers and doing different kinds of work.

And in between these two are six characters in the throes of life at its most intense, full of regrets, present worries and questions about the future. Ken (Michael Glantzis), a legless Vietnam War vet, is thinking of selling the farm. Conversely, his lover, Jed (Andrew Vroman), a botanist, is planting a large English garden on the property. Ken’s older sister, June (Sara Paupini), seems frustrated by rearing Shirley. And old college chums from the 1960s, John (Robin MacDuffie) and his wife, Gwen (Cristine M. Loffredo), accompanied by Wes (David Quinones), a musician in Gwen’s band, are trying to launch Gwen’s career and manage her wealth as a copper mine heiress. 

The household bubbles and boils with laughter and arguments as everyone tries to be heard and understood. Near the end Gwen and Shirley deliver the play’s significant speeches about what the events we’ve just witnessed add up to — a very satisfying conclusion.

The production is successful throughout, with a special nod to the superb work of the four women. Paupini’s is the least showy of the roles, so closely watch her reactions here and there, and June will come to life. Durocher is irrepressible, flitting around the room, expounding at the top of her voice, unable to contain her joie de vivre. As usual, Westervelt delivers lines and negotiates the stage in perfect pitch with whatever character she is playing, testimony to a lifetime of honing her craft. And Loffredo makes the lusty and loud Gwen a comic gem, though without overlooking the young woman’s desperate dimensions. 

MacDuffie’s John is a believable foil for almost every other character in the play: heavy lifting, which MacDuffie accomplishes. Fresh off a delightful turn in “Peter and the Starcatcher,” Quinones makes Wes a similarly delightful odd man out in this household. If I wanted more anger and cynicism from Ken, Glantzis and Vroman are credible as two gay men comfortable in their skins and with each other. Hats off to Vroman, too, for a charming scene with Durocher at the top of Act 2.

Director Joseph Fava and producer Donald Mealy have mounted a top-notch production, with a stunning set and fine work from the costume, lighting, and sound crew. 

Westervelt notes in her program bio that she “loves being part of this typical dysfunctional family.” You, too, will find the time spent with them fascinating.

‘Fifth of July’

WHERE: Schenectady Civic Players, 12 S. Church St.
WHEN: Through Oct. 22
MORE INFO: 518.382.2081 or civicplayers.org

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